By Rich Miller
Last week, a reporter said to Gov. Bruce Rauner that Secretary of State Jesse White had suggested that Rauner bring in former governors, including George Ryan, to help break the long governmental impasse which has prevented the state from having a budget for over seven months.
Rauner laughed and said, “Uh, wow.”
The governor clearly did not take the suggestion seriously.
“I’m not gonna talk about the failures of the past that created this mess,” Gov. Rauner said through chuckles.
“I focus on the future. I don’t live in the past. We’ve had failure in our elected government for decades. This mess didn’t happen over night. And what we’re not gonna do is reproduce the dynamic that created it.” The governor laughed throughout most of that last sentence.
Bringing in graybeards has been tried before without success. Gov. Rod Blagojevich asked former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert and then-Southern Illinois University President Glenn Poshard to town to help him pass his massive construction proposal that Speaker Madigan refused to agree to. It didn’t work. The two men left town as soon as they realized how hardened Madigan’s position had become against Blagojevich.
While former governors have been through similar troubles, nothing really compares to today’s self-inflicted disaster. Madigan and Blagojevich played hardball, but the game is exponentially meaner now.
And, besides, what would the former governors say or do that could make a difference? They’d probably advise Rauner to cut a deal which doesn’t bash unions. But our governor seems wholly uninterested in doing such a thing.
The simple fact is that nothing – nothing – will change until Madigan and Rauner decide it will.
Madigan’s long history clearly shows he forces the other side to negotiate against itself until he believes they’re close enough to his position. Rauner has clearly not moved far enough away from anti-union proposals and things like term limits for Madigan’s taste.
And Rauner, for his part, seems fed up with the whole process and has taken to issuing repeated dire warnings of political consequences to Madigan’s Democratic members if they continue backing the Speaker.
But as we saw not long ago, when rank and file Senate Democrats rejected the pension reform compromise negotiated by Senate President John Cullerton (even though a majority of that caucus had voted for a very similar bill a couple of years earlier), most Democratic legislators are in no mood to work out a deal, either, and continue to insist that the governor come to the table and finally agree to a budget instead.
Late last Thursday, Chicago State University officially declared a “financial exigency,” which could lead to the reduction of tenured faculty and drastic reductions in programs in order to save the school from closure. The state’s only majority black university had already announced last month that it would run out of money to pay salaries in early March.
CSU gets more than a third of its funding from the state, more than all but one other 4-year public university in Illinois. But the governor has publicly complained that taxpayers have been throwing Chicago State’s money “down the toilet” and wants drastic reforms. For now, anyway, the Democrats are staying on the sidelines and loudly pointing fingers at Rauner.
The governor has been talking about his grand plan for years, long before he was elected.
He never made it a major campaign issue, but it’s clear from looking at his past statements that he believes Democrats will eventually side against the unions and with social service agencies (and places like the CSU campus and the Chicago Public Schools) if he can, in his own words, “drive a wedge” into the party. The object is to make the Democrats choose between money for their pet causes or union rights. He’s shut off the money, but he hasn’t yet driven that wedge.
That’s probably why Rauner looked like he was attempting to tank the Chicago Public School’s bond sale last week with loud demands that it should go bankrupt and be taken over by the state. Without that bond sale, the school system would’ve been in danger of shutting down.
The object here appears to be to create so much chaos that the Democrats finally start negotiating in order to save all the programs and institutions they’ve been building for decades.
So far, that isn’t happening, but the real chaos is yet to come. We’ve seen smaller social service agencies close, we’ve seen larger agencies shut down vital programs, but so far nothing huge has happened.
It’ll probably take the “death” of something very important and very large to test this theory.