On Feb. 6, Gov. Bruce Rauner appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked him about seeking re-election:
I’m Bruce Rauner, governor of the great state of Illinois. And over the last three years, we’ve begun the transformation of our state. To save our state from the looting of the career politicians that has gone on for too long. We’ve transformed education and education funding in the state of Illinois. We’ve transformed criminal justice and brought more justice and fairness to our criminal justice system. We’ve also transformed the government operations, saving taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
Our top priorities going forward are to transform our economy. Make us more pro-growth, pro-investment, pro-job creation so we can have higher family incomes. To do that we need to reduce the red tape and regulatory burden on our businesses and reduce the tax burden on our small businesses and our working families. The other thing we need to do is change the culture of corruption and self dealing in our government, and the number one way we want to do that is by getting term limits done — term limits on the ballot so the people of Illinois can vote those up or down.
The Chicago Sun-Times sent the candidates seeking the Republican nomination for governor a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the state of Illinois. Gov. Rauner submitted the following responses to our questionnaire:
TOPIC: Key challenges.
What are the two biggest problems facing Illinois and what would you do about them?
Rauner: We must have stronger economic growth in Illinois. That will grow more good jobs, create more opportunity, and provide more revenue to fund important priorities like education and health care.
We can do this by fixing our broken tax and regulatory systems and by having our government stop spending money we don’t have. We also need a highly-educated and well-trained workforce that can compete in a modern economy. And we need to transform our vocational, technical, and apprenticeship programs so that those who choose not to attend a four-year college can still have an outstanding career with good pay.
We also need to fix the broken property tax system which makes it difficult to raise a family in Illinois. It’s the reason many people are leaving for other states with much lower property taxes.
To fix this, we should allow local communities to have more control over their own property taxes so they can fund the important priorities in their communities and lower them if they see fit to attract more residents and businesses. Local control means both empowering taxpayers to control property tax rates at the ballot box and giving elected officials the tools they need to contain costs and innovate inside government.
Elected officials should not serve as property tax lawyers. Just look at House Speaker Mike Madigan. He’s been the Speaker for more than 30 years while at the same time he has made millions of dollars from his work as a property tax lawyer. It’s an inherent conflict of interest that has allowed him to become rich off the system while the middle-class struggles with growing property tax bills.
Who is Bruce Rauner?
District running for: Governor of Illinois (incumbent)
Political/civic background: Governor of Illinois. Served on boards of multiple civic organizations including The Noble Network of Charter Schools, World Business Chicago, and the University of Illinois Chancellor’s Strategic Advisory Board.
Occupation: Previously an investment manager.
Education: Dartmouth College and Harvard University
Campaign website: www.brucerauner.com
TOPIC: Red ink and taxes
Even after raising the personal state income tax rate to 4.95 percent, Illinois has $9 billion in unpaid bills. The state also must pay billions of dollars over the next 12 years to service the debt on $6 billion borrowed to cover previous unpaid bills. That’s a problem. What’s your solution? Under what circumstances, if any, would you support a higher income tax?
Rauner: Illinois has had enough tax hikes. That’s a big part of the reason we face the challenges that we do. We need to lower the tax burden facing middle class families and businesses.
We need to enact reforms to improve government efficiency and encourage job creation and economic growth. We can – and must – balance the budget by transforming the way government operates, reforming the pension system and growing the economy, which will bring in more tax revenue.
RELATED ARTICLES: Bruce Rauner
TOPIC: Underfunded pensions
Illinois has $130 billion of unfunded pension liability. Do you support re-amortizing this debt? Do you support a constitutional amendment that would reduce the liability? Please explain.
Rauner: Our pension problems are hurting our economy and our budget. I’ve been able to implement reforms through executive actions like bringing in more sophisticated asset managers and reduced fees and costs. Altogether we’ve saved $60 million while increasing investment returns by a full percentage point. I’ve also been the first executive in recent memory to actually represent taxpayers at the bargaining table with state employees. Too many governors in the past gave away unaffordable benefits in exchange for campaign support. It’s a corrupt, closed-loop system that we need to end once and for all.
But long-term pension reform also requires the cooperation of the general assembly. Unfortunately, leaders like House Speaker Mike Madigan have been more interested in currying political favor with the special interests than passing real reforms. That’s one reason why we need to change the makeup of the general assembly in this year’s elections – and that’s something I’m committed to achieving.
TOPIC: Gun laws
Do you support a state ban on gun silencers? Should all gun dealers in Illinois be licensed by the state? Should family members be empowered to petition the courts for the temporary confiscation of guns from mentally or emotionally disturbed people who may be a danger to themselves or others?
Rauner: I support a law-abiding citizen’s constitutional right to legally purchase and own guns after a background check. I signed a bill into law last year – supported by mayors and law enforcement – that cracks down on repeat offenders of gun crimes to help curb violence. But firearms are only part of the problem of violence in Illinois communities.
I am committed to working with law enforcement and community leaders throughout the state of Illinois to meaningfully and measurably reduce violence. What’s needed is genuine, bipartisan collaboration to find common-sense solutions that keep guns out of the hands of violent criminals and the mentally ill, bring resources and modern policing tactics to law enforcement statewide, and support better schools and more economic opportunity for communities affected by crime. I am currently working alongside the Illinois State Police, local, and federal law enforcement in Illinois to drive down violence in communities across the state.
As governor, how would you ensure the long-term viability of the state’s Medicaid program? Do you support continued Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act? Should the state continue on a path toward managed care for Medicaid beneficiaries? Should everyone be permitted to buy into Medicaid?
Rauner: We can strengthen our Medicaid system by making it more cost-effective. As governor, I’ve saved about $450 million by eliminating waste and abuse and we’re going to save $1 billion over the next few years by moving to a new managed care system that will also eliminate administration and bureaucracy that stands between doctors and patients.
TOPIC: Affordable Care Act
Under the ACA, 650,000 Illinoisans gained health insurance coverage. If the program is abolished or diminished by Congress, what action would you take, if any, to maintain health insurance coverage for these Illinoisans? Where would you find the money?
Rauner: If Congress were to take action on the Affordable Care Act, I would bring the Illinois legislature together to create a plan in a bipartisan fashion. My role in negotiations is necessary to ensure the legislature’s plan is fiscally responsible and Illinois families have access to the quality care they deserve.
TOPIC: College student exodus.
Illinois is one of the largest exporters of college students in the country. What would you do to encourage the best and brightest young people in Illinois to attend college here at home? Does Illinois have too many state universities, as some have argued?
Rauner: Illinois has great universities that are producing students ready to lead our economy and nation. The problem is that job growth in our state isn’t what it needs to be. Decades of government mismanagement, higher taxes, burdensome regulations, and corruption has made it difficult for students to build a family and business here.
Illinois is home to many of these students and they want to be here. We have a responsibility to give them that opportunity. That’s why has governor, I’ve worked to grow more good-jobs, have gone on trade missions to bring companies to Illinois and have stood strong against higher taxes. We have the education system and the talent here, we now need serious government and economic reforms to unlock that potential.
TOPIC: University oversight
Failed or fired public university presidents have received big payouts. Do you have any plans to consolidate or otherwise reorganize governance of the state’s university system?
Rauner: For too long, Illinois has been held hostage by an outdated system that rewards seniority rather than merit. I believe that all government employees, including university presidents, should be remunerated and rewarded based on the quality of work they do on behalf of Illinois.
TOPIC: Clean air regulations
The Rauner administration has proposed scrapping limits on the rate of air pollution from a fleet of eight coal plants in central and southern Illinois owned by Dynegy Inc. Instead, the state would impose annual caps on sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emitted by the fleet. Do you support this softening of emissions standards? If not, are you concerned coal plants could be closed and union workers could lose their jobs? Also, how would you support the adoption of clean energy, such as wind and solar, and energy conservation?
Rauner: Under my leadership, Illinois has become the Midwest leader in clean energy jobs. My administration has made investing in Illinois’ future a central focus in my first term, which was a major reason I signed the Future Energy Jobs Act. This bill has not only saved thousands of jobs and made Illinois an environmental leader in creating energy, but it sets up Illinois for billions in additional investment and potential growth of tens of thousands of jobs through private investment.
TOPIC: School funding
Under the state’s new school-funding model, Illinois will need $6.2 billion more to fully fund K-12 schools. Will you commit to full funding? Where will you get the money?
Rauner: I was proud to sign this bill and believe it will make our educational system in Illinois stronger. I’ll work to make sure this legislation is implemented properly and that it’s producing the best results.
This bill provides Illinois schools with a new and more equitable funding formula, an accomplishment no governor in decades – Republican or Democrat – has been able to achieve. It also creates Illinois’ first ever scholarship tax credit program, providing low-income children throughout the state with an opportunity to choose where they will go to school. On its first full day, the program received more than $36 million in donations, and will only continue to grow.
TOPIC: Wage equality
What is your position on the vetoed Illinois Wage Equity Act?
Rauner: We must close the gender wage gap in our society, but I vetoed this measure to provide employers with the ability to understand an applicant’s background once they have already offered the applicant a position and salary. These changes are in line with a similar law in Massachusetts that prevents employers from asking about prior salary until after the employer has made an offer.
TOPIC: Roads and bridges
How do you plan to address Illinois’ huge backlog of infrastructure construction and repair needs, including for roads, bridges, waterways and mass transit? Do you support an increased gas tax — and/or other taxes and fees — to finance infrastructure improvements, including public transit?
Rauner: The biggest hurdle we face in addressing infrastructure spending moving forward is the obstruction of Mike Madigan to address the big issues facing Illinois. We need to work together to get it done. As such, I support public-private partnerships to address our infrastructure updates. Illinois has an extensive infrastructure network that makes us an attractive option for businesses to come here. We need to ensure that this network remains in top shape.
TOPIC: Displaced workers
Jobs in Illinois are being lost to high-tech automation and artificial intelligence. It won’t even be long before cars drive themselves. Meanwhile, many other jobs, notably in the retail sector, are being lost to online alternatives. Do you have a plan to help guide displaced workers into new careers?
Rauner: We need a highly-educated and well-trained workforce that can compete in a modern economy. And we need to transform our vocational, technical, and apprenticeship programs so that those who choose not to attend a four-year college can still have an outstanding career with good pay.
Illinois has world class universities that are helping to educate the future generations of our talented work force. We need to encourage these young, forward thinking entrepreneurs to stay here by fixing our broken tax and regulatory systems and by having our government stop spending money we don’t have.
TOPIC: Manufacturing jobs
Since the recession ended in 2009, neighboring states have added tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs while Illinois has not. What will you do to spur Illinois manufacturing?
Rauner: A strong manufacturing sector is built on a healthy economic environment. Illinois can achieve that by eliminating many of the duplicative and redundant regulations we currently have on the books.
Reforming our overly cumbersome tax burden is critical to growing manufacturing here in Illinois. We have everything manufacturers across the country and the globe are looking for in a location: a talented workforce, strong system of infrastructure, and prime location. The only thing standing in our way is decades of tax increases and regulations on businesses.
By ridding the state of unnecessary regulations and rolling back the Madigan tax hikes, we can recruit business and manufacturing to our state and unlock the potential of Illinois
TOPIC: Election funding
Record amounts of money are pouring into top judicial races in Illinois and across the country. Is this a problem? Do you favor the public financing of judicial races?
Rauner: I support more ethical, accountable government by prohibiting trial lawyer donations to elected judges. We need to make serious efforts to move toward merit-based judicial reform as supported by the American Bar Association.
TOPIC: Opioid crisis
What role does a governor’s power to commute sentences play in the overall effort to improve the quality of criminal justice in Illinois? Do you believe sentencing may have been overly harsh — or not tough enough — during the earlier years of the so-called “war on drugs.” And we now face a renewed war on drugs — this time opioids. Is the greatly increased use of opioids a criminal crisis or public health crisis?
Rauner: Opioid abuse is a crisis and it effects everyone. Last year, I signed an executive order to establish the Opioid Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force. The Task Force’s primary goals are to curb the spread of opioid use, provide aid in treatment of those recovering from addiction, and reduce the number of opioid-related deaths by one-third in the next three years.
I also issued standing order that makes Naloxone, which can be life-saving in the case of an overdose, more available to first responders and to other eligible organizations. Cracking down on shipments of opioids into O’Hare International Airport is also an important in the fight against opioids. And we announced a helpline to provide information to help individuals and families dealing with addiction. The helpline works to provide treatment information and connect them to recovery centers.
TOPIC: A model gov.
Which past governor of Illinois do you most admire and why? Which governor from any state would you most like to emulate?
Rauner: I’ve always admired former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels. He proved that reforms that lower taxes, make government more efficient, and make government unions more accountable to taxpayers do work.