Rauner: Illinois can't help most vulnerable if not competitive

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Gov. Bruce Rauner on Thursday talks about a survey by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that ranked Illinois 48th of 50 states for “lawsuit climate.” | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Gov. Bruce Rauner on Thursday said his administration was “pushing as hard as we can” to address an impending human services funding crisis in Illinois, but said ultimately the state needs to be competitive or “we can’t be compassionate.”

Rauner spoke to reporters after a Thompson Center news conference in which he advocated for lawsuit reform as a way to make the state more friendly to businesses.

His remarks came a day after his hand-picked comptroller, Leslie Munger, warned that Illinois’ unpaid bill backlog could run up to more than $12 billion if the Legislature and the governor can’t agree on a budget.

The state has gone without a budget since the new fiscal year started July 1. While Rauner signed off on education money and fought for state workers to receive paychecks, he was asked why he’s remained largely silent as money stopped flowing to agencies serving severely developmentally disabled adults, Early Intervention services for delayed children as well as day care subsidies. Democrats in Springfield on Wednesday blasted Rauner as lacking leadership on the issue while finding money to keep state fairs in Illinois open.

“We are pushing as hard as we can. It’s a tragedy to have human services run out of money. I have been pushing on this issue relentlessly, I will never give up. I am dedicated to having Illinois have the best, most thoughtful, most supportive social services safety net in America,” Rauner said. “Here’s our challenge: we can’t be compassionate to help the most vulnerable if we’re not competitive. We just won’t get there.”

Rauner shifted the blame to Democrats who he said have refused to institute his reforms and instead want to discuss revenue options to pay the bills. Rauner pointed to a Democratic supermajority in both chambers, saying if they wanted to pass a tax hike, they should. He made clear that would be Democrats’ decision to own the hike – not his.

“If you want to refuse any structural reform, then you’ve got to go ahead and do your budget and do your tax hike. You’ve gotta choose but it’s going to be your tax hike. You want me to raise taxes, I’ll do it. But I’ll do it with reforms,” Rauner said. “You’ve proven you can do it without my support – do your unbalanced budget and then raise taxes and budget.”

However, Democrats last week seemed to prove they won’t walk in lock step, even when the pressure is on. Illinois House Democrats failed to override a Rauner veto of a labor bill, falling three votes shy of the 71 needed.

One Democrat voted against his party, another voted present and a third, state Rep. Ken Dunkin, D-Chicago, was out of town at the time of the voting on the bill. The measure would have revamped contract negotiations involving public sector unions to allow either side to seek arbitration and ban strikes or lockouts during the arbitration process.

Rauner fought vigorously against the bill override, saying it would have blocked his influence over contract talks.

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, has said he is striving for a budget that includes both cuts and new taxes. Democrats have roundly rejected Rauner’s reform package, calling them initiatives to lower wages and diminish the power of unions.

Rauner denied having a role in Dunkin’s controversial no-show last week in Springfield.

“I have known Rep. Dunkin for a number of years. We have talked fairly frequently. He and I share a passion around economic empowerment, especially in the black community, and we share a passion around education equality and education choice,” he said. “We worked together on those issues for a long time. We actually see eye to eye on a number of necessary reforms. I did not have any influence [on Dunkin’s absence]. I did not discuss him being out of town or encouraging him to be gone.”

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