‘Shaking up Springfield’ could make Rauner dizzy
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Fed up and frustrated with a stagnant economy, staggering bills and soaring pension debt, Illinoisans answered businessman Bruce Rauner’s call, voting for an historic Springfield shake up Tuesday in electing a Republican governor for the first time in 16 years.
“This is your victory. This is a victory for every family in Illinois,” Rauner told roaring supporters Tuesday night, though incumbent Pat Quinn would not concede defeat. “Are you ready for a new direction?”
But where Illinois is headed with Rauner at the helm remains something of a mystery.
How exactly will he bring back Illinois? How, indeed, when he must work with Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, not to mention the “union bosses” he regularly criticized until he won the GOP primary.
Rauner didn’t dwell on that, but struck a common-man chord Tuesday, noting he had called Madigan and Cullerton and told them the three of them faced an opportunity.
“This is an opportunity for us to work together,” he said. “This is an opportunity for us to come together on a bipartisan basis … We will not accept the status quo. We will get it done with your help,” Rauner told supporters at his victory party. He also made a point of saying, ”This is a victory for our workers who deserve to have a booming economy.”
A bitter, nasty campaign and brutal ad warfare had Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn portraying Rauner as a heartless capitalist bully and Rauner repeatedly tagging Quinn as an incompetent, corrupt failure and phony in a record-shattering $100 million campaign.
And while Rauner is a wildly wealthy and successful private equity business expert, he also has been a practitioner of new math. How will a Gov. Rauner set a new direction? How will he bring back Illinois?
He’s yet to show how plans for $600 million in new sales taxes on services, vague pledges to find and cut waste, and a vision for dropping the income tax rate over four years will add up to equaling enough to cover the full-year, $4 billion gap created by the law that drops the income tax rate to 3.75 percent come January.
Then there’s the out-of-whack budget Democrats approved last May. Laurence Msall, president of the nonpartisan fiscal watchdog Civic Federation, says that budget borrows to pay for regular operating costs, underfunds some costs and will grow our bill backlog from $6 billion last fiscal year to $6.4 billion at the end of this one.
Illinoisans ought to brace themselves and prepare to pay. Rauner just might soon be suggesting the Illinois fiscal crisis is so great that he doesn’t want to let the income tax rate drop Jan. 1 from 5 percent to 3.75 percent. The question is will Madigan and the Democrats help him solve that equation that simply and quickly?
Will Rauner be willing to trade a minimum wage increase (soundly supported by voters) and sacrifice his business reforms for more tax revenue to tackle Illinois’ debt and bill backlog? Or will Madigan push Rauner for the millionaire tax 3 percent surcharge to solve the budget gap?
Yes, the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative controversy amply demonstrates there is wasteful spending in Illinois government, but finding $4 billion plus will be just about impossible to do.
Don’t forget Rauner also pledged to increase school funding, somehow.
And then there are our gargantuan state and local pension crises. Since he won the primary, Rauner has said he believes already-earned retirement benefits should not be cut and that future benefits should be moved into a 401(k)-style system. That leaves our $100 billion debt still to be paid, while removing the future employee contributions that would help chip away at that debt.
Worst-in-the-nation pension debt. $6.4 billion in unpaid bills and an unbalanced state budget. Democrats and union bosses who distrust Rauner and might very well detest him.
Illinoisans fed up with a stagnant state voted to give Rauner a chance to shake up Springfield. We might all end up dizzy as he does. Bringing back Illinois won’t be easy. Or pain free.
Madeleine Doubek is chief operating officer of Reboot Illinois.