The Turnaround Agenda is back.
Gov. Bruce Rauner doesn’t call it that any more, preferring to stress the individual parts over the label that became too closely associated with the state’s long budget impasse.
But as he polishes up his re-election pitch to Illinois voters, Rauner has made clear his ambitious 44-point prescription for curing Illinois’ ills is back on his plate in all its parts from his popular call for term limits to more controversial proposals to curtail the power and influence of labor unions.
Rauner’s back-to-basics approach was evident again Wednesday in his annual budget message, just as it had been in his State of the State speech two weeks ago and in a subsequent appearance before the Sun-Times’ Editorial Board.
He’s even still campaigning against the income tax increase that he successfully pressured legislators to eliminate in 2014, only to see it brought back over his veto by the General Assembly last year to end the budget stalemate.
Although the budget Rauner introduced Wednesday is built in large part on spending the revenue the state is receiving from that tax increase, the governor said the Legislature’s “No. 1 objective” this year should be to start rolling back the income tax rate with a $1 billion tax cut.
As he has from his earliest days, Rauner stressed his belief that the only way for Illinois to break free from its “fiscal status quo” is to grow the economy by making the state more business-friendly.
“We must enact structural reforms that allow us to be as competitive as we need to be, so we can be as compassionate as we want to be,” Rauner said, a variation on a line he used in all his early speeches.
It’s the nature of those “reforms” that have always been the devil in the details for Rauner.
Those reforms generally involve reducing the rights of government workers to collectively bargain at either the state or local levels. Rauner has argued local governments should set their own labor regulations instead of the state.
Rauner had previously argued giving school districts and other units of local government such “tools” would allow them to reduce property taxes with the cost savings.
But in the biggest departure Wednesday from his prior approach, the governor instead argued the increased “flexibility” would help local school districts offset his new proposal to shift the cost of teachers’ pensions now borne by the state.
That cost-shifting proposal was immediately criticized by Rauner opponents as a recipe for forcing school districts to raise property taxes.
Rauner told the Sun-Times Editorial Board he still hopes to see his proposal for local government right-to-work zones (he calls them “empowerment zones”) come to fruition in a second term.
Rauner said he is banking on a federal court case involving the village of Lincolnshire to clear the way for local governments to free themselves from state labor laws to help entice private employers.
Asked by the Sun-Times about the original Turnaround Agenda earlier this month, Rauner stood behind it.
“I laid out the vision very clearly. And I knew we weren’t going to get 44 points in my first term. We’re not going to get 44 points probably in two terms. But there’s the vision. There’s the roadmap,” he said.
Arguably, the Turnaround Agenda never really went away, only moved to the back seat as Rauner tried to maneuver through a rocky first term.
Since he burst on the scene with his massive campaign bankroll, Rauner has never deviated far from his core beliefs — even if both conservative Republicans and moderate Democrats belatedly discovered that his positions didn’t quite match what they might have come to believe during his first campaign.