“Nobody tells me what my policies are, nobody.”
So said Gov. Bruce Rauner on Friday when asked why he has hired a bunch of ideologues from a far-right advocacy group, the Illinois Policy Institute, to run his office.
But Rauner’s reply was a misdirection. The question was not whether the IPI might tell him what to think. The question was whether the governor, by hiring reductivist worshipers of libertarian philosophy, was revealing his own true intellectual colors. The question was whether Rauner was about to double-down on an ideologically-driven approach to governing — as opposed to, you know, living in the real world — that already has done tremendous damage to Illinois.
On Monday we got the answer: You betcha.
Rauner made it clear Monday that he will not sign a bill that changes the formula for how the state funds schools, though he has long called for exactly these changes, unless the Legislature agrees to strip the bill of $220 million in pension and health insurance money for the Chicago Public Schools. The governor wants the whole hog, and he’s cranking up another crisis in Illinois — the possibility of schools being unable to open on time this fall — to get it.
From his first day as governor, Rauner has operated under a mistaken assumption that he can do it all himself, getting what he wants when he wants it, just like his hero in Wisconsin, Republican Gov. Scott Walker. But Rauner, unlike Walker, must work with a state legislature controlled by Democrats, which he has never accepted. Compromise to Rauner always looks like giving in.
Worse yet, Rauner seems to really believe his opponents are motivated for the most part by base self-interest, doing the well-rewarded bidding of greedy trial lawyers and rapacious public unions.
The governor is not completely off base there, as we have said many times when criticizing his obstinate chief nemesis, House Speaker Mike Madigan. But he fails to understand that plenty of people in Illinois sincerely believe that the road to economic progress begins not with breaking unions or slashing pensions, but with investing in better roads and bridges, in improving schools and social services, in caring for the poor and elderly, and in increasing wages for workers. A thriving middle class is essential to a robust economy.
As State Sen. Dan Biss, now a candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2018, wrote in an op-ed for Crain’s Chicago Business last year: “Rauner has been slow to figure out that this is a genuine disagreement. It’s not a consequence of politics or coalitions or alliances. It’s one of deep, long-held beliefs.”
Instead, Rauner has fired much of his senior staff and surrounded himself with the likes of IPI true-believers such as Diana Rickert, his new deputy chief of staff of communications. Rickert once suggested that all state workers be fired so they could be rehired with new and cheaper pension plans.
The school funding formula bill Rauner refuses to sign, Senate Bill 1, is not necessarily set in stone. If Rauner would agree to meet with the Legislature’s leadership, perhaps an accommodation could be made. You would think it’s worth a try. Instead, the governor has called for a special session of the Legislature, beginning Wednesday, to get a new bill to his liking, which is not likely to happen.
The political dysfunction that made Illinois a national joke for two years, ending only when a bipartisan group of legislators earlier this month overrode the governor’s veto to enact a budget, is about to begin all over again. How’s that for making Illinois more “pro-business?”
Rauner is taking a pass on a historically important school funding bill, one that would go a long way toward ending decades of unconscionable funding inequities. He has preached for years that the key to upward mobility for children from poor families is a better education. By signing this bill, he would be doing something about that.
But the governor would rather pit Chicago against the rest of Illinois by insisting that the $221 million for Chicago is nothing but a “bailout.” Never mind that, until now, the state picked up the pension costs for every school district except the Chicago Public Schools. And never mind that Chicago still would receive only 16 percent of the state’s funding for education while teaching 19 percent of the state’s public school kids.
Some people pursue a life of simple-minded purity, like those libertarian heroes in an Ayn Rand novel. Other people — the ones who get big things done — see the world as it is, complicated and messy. They are more pragmatic.
Our governor might want to give it a try.
Send letters to: email@example.com.