SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Bruce Rauner vowed to prioritize education spending while giving the Illinois General Assembly an ultimatum during his budget address on Wednesday: compromise on some of his reforms or give the executive branch the authority to cut spending.
He spoke of the toll the budget impasse has amassed on the state, as protesters from state universities and social service agencies once again roared outside the House chambers.
“You choose, but please choose now,” Rauner told legislators.
Rauner offered two proposals: a general fund spending plan totaling $36.3 billion that incorporates reforms he’s been seeking for months, or a budget that would allow him to reduce spending to $32.8 billion.
“If, in the end, you won’t compromise on the reforms we’ve proposed — and if you’re unwilling to work with us to enact a balanced budget with a mix of reform, cost reductions and revenue – we still must fulfill our shared responsibility to enact a balanced budget,” Rauner said.
He vowed to “compromise” on his reforms. Democrats cheered as Rauner said lawmakers “don’t have to enact every item” of his Turnaround Agenda in their current forms.
“But we must pass real reforms this year,” Rauner said to Republican applause.
The “real reforms” Rauner mentioned included workers’ compensation reform and lawsuit reform, relief from government mandates, consolidation and local control of collective bargaining and bidding “to drive down property taxes.”
“These reforms will provide many billions of dollars every year in government cost savings,” Rauner said. “But even more critically, they’ll help our economy grow faster by rebuilding job creators’ confidence in our state. More businesses, more jobs, more people working and paying taxes.”
Despite the choice, Rauner said he’ll make education the state’s top priority.
“The one thing I won’t back down on – the one thing that’s non-negotiable for me – is increasing education funding,” Rauner said.
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Rauner’s budget for early childhood education increases state support by $75 million. The $393 million the budget proposes investing in early childhood education is the most in state history, according to the governor.
Rauner did not include specifics of the budget in his address. But according to an administration official, Rauner is seeking a number of changes, including a procurement reform proposal that could save $500 million a year, in addition to Illinois Senate President John Cullerton’s pension reform bill, which could save $1 billion annually beginning in 2018. He’s also seeking limiting end-of-career salary spikes at schools and universities.
According to Rauner’s budget documents, he’s proposing $36.3 billion in spending but just $32.8 billion in revenue. The $3.5 billion difference is for “working together or executive management,” according to an administration official.
As for revenue, an income tax hike and sales tax reform are still on the table for Rauner, the official said. He’s also not opposed to a Chicago casino if the city can sustain it on its own.
In his speech, Rauner chided Cullerton for not introducing his pension reform bill, which the governor said he’d sign: “Now is the time to set politics aside and do what is right for taxpayers. No more delays. No more stalling,” Rauner said.
Rauner’s administration characterized the second option of executive authority as the “extreme” choice.
It’s a word Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan has used to describe Rauner’s proposals since last year.
“People have to set aside the extreme agenda. They can’t be about the business of thinking they can use a government to bring down wages and the standard of living and send injured workers to welfare or to the emergency rooms. That’s an extreme economic theory. No one in America has followed that theory since 1933,” Madigan said.
Madigan said arguing a “contrary” economic theory is “extreme.”
Cullerton applauded Rauner’s emphasis on education but criticized his approach to a “balanced” budget.
“What did he propose today? It certainly wasn’t a balanced budget,” Cullerton told reporters after the speech.
“While I welcome his interest in education fairness, I am troubled by proposals that would appear to return to the days of skipping pension payments and raiding local funds to prop up state spending. That won’t help our state and it won’t help our local communities,” Cullerton said in a statement.
He added: “And with all due respect to the governor, his budget speeches don’t help Illinois. At this point the courts are running more of the state than our governor. It’s going to require real plans and real action on his part to resolve the impasse he created. I want to work with him to find practical solutions to our problems because nothing Governor Rauner did in his first year worked for anyone.”
Speaking on “Illinois Lawmakers” just after the speech, Cullerton said he told Rauner on Monday that he’s still reviewing the pension reform bill.
He also called Rauner’s speech “deja vu.”
“I would say we have to start from scratch with him, again,” Cullerton said.
Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin called the Rauner compromise path the “preferred way” and one that will help avoid another year of an impasse.
“If they choose not to participate, I’d like to know what their plan is,” Durkin said of Democrats, blaming them for playing the role of the victim while sending Rauner an unbalanced budget.
Durkin agreed with Cullerton’s view that they may have to start from scratch.
“Right now what’s going on is not working. The past year has been a very challenging year — more gamesmanship, more infighting — and I don’t think that’s positive so I would say this is a way for us to start fresh.”
Durkin said two reforms Rauner will be pushing as part of his reforms include workers compensation and pension reform.
Students from Chicago State University and Eastern Illinois University, among many other students came out to protest the speech. As did numerous social service agencies, such as the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and the Access Living.
As legislators left the House Chambers, the crowd chanted “Save our Schools.” The group chanted “Rauner, Rauner you’re the worst, time to put the people first,” as he walked in to deliver his address.
Among their other chants: “Hey-hey, ho-ho, budget cuts have got to go.”