By Mark Fitton
SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Bruce Rauner continued to beat the drum for his “Turnaround Illinois” agenda on Tuesday, pitching it to a group of county officials in downtown Springfield and to printing company employees in Bloomington.
Meanwhile, at least one political analyst wonders if Rauner’s drumbeat doesn’t carry its own political risk.
Along the way Tuesday, the governor addressed a few questions and a few headlines:
- On talks to close the current budget gap, estimated at $1.6 billion: “The 2015 situation, as you know, has been dragging for five or six weeks. The Democratic caucus in the Senate was meeting today on what we hope was the final structure and language for sing-off. I hope we get something to agree to very imminently. We’ve been long overdue.”
- On whether House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Westmont, saying no Republican lawmaker would vote for any tax increases hurts the governor’s maneuverability: “Not at all. He’s saying what he firmly believes and I support him on this.” But, the governor added, “If we get the structural reforms, I’m very open to discussing all kinds of issues beyond that.”
- On some reports Rauner had said he’d crush union membership in Illinois: “Baloney, we’re going to be a strong union state for many, many years and I’m fine with that. This spin against me is baloney and I want to call it out.” Rauner said he’d simply pointed out that nationwide union membership had run about 34 percent at its peak before declining to “6-point-something” percent of late.
- On the resignation of U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Peoria: “It’s a very sad day in Illinois,” Rauner said. “I hope and believe the congressman is doing the right thing right now for the best interests of the people of the 18th District and the state of Illinois.”
For the most part, though, the governor’s public remarks continued to focus on what he calls conflicts of interest or corruption within Illinois government. He again ticked off public-sector union leaders, trial lawyers and Medicaid providers as among those he said have turned the system on its head.
Rauner argues special interests have the government working for them rather than the taxpayers. He argues vast reform, including shifts of power to the local level, are necessary.
The governor acknowledged many people have urged him to back away from unions and focus on the budget. But he insists without structural change, Illinois politicians of both parties will continue to kick problems down the road and spend the state beyond broke.
Political analyst Kent Redfield said he’s been puzzled by how hard and how long Rauner has stayed on the attack while legislative session time ticks off the clock.
Rauner’s need for at least some support from Democrats who overwhelmingly control both chambers of the General Assembly isn’t going to go away, Redfield said.
“I think he’s greatly sincere in his beliefs,” said Redfield, a University of Illinois Springfield professor emeritus of political science.
With that said, Redfield added, it’s possible many people’s support of or even devotion to unions is perhaps entirely beyond Rauner’s experience.
And Rauner is likely flirting with the mathematically impossible if he thinks he can get some union-opposed measures like right-to-work zones through this Legislature, Redfield said.
If Rauner is setting up some of his least favorite special interests as potential scapegoats, Redfield said the governor risks losing credibility with the legislative leaders and perhaps a goodly share of voters.
Redfield noted recent legislative successes by big power companies and said they, too, are huge campaign contributors.
“Everybody’s a special interest,” Redfield said.
Illinois’ current-year budget is about $1.6 billion in the red. Projected fiscal 2016 funding is estimated at $6.2 billion short, largely due to the rollback of the temporary income tax increase.
Democrats, who enjoy veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate if they can stay united, have been extremely critical of the first-term Republican governor’s proposed 2016 budget proposal, which relies heavily on cuts to social services, higher education and local government aid and does not includes proposals for new state revenues.