Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner made a stop Wednesday in East Alton as part of a statewide push against the state’s epic budget impasse, which has led to underfunding of social services in the Metro East.
The Republican’s re-election campaign paid for the tour, which comes more than a year before he’s up for another term in 2018. He expressed frustration to the crowd of primarily GOP activists about how he hasn’t been able to reach a budget deal with Democratic-controlled legislature for nearly two years.
“We’re arguing about the budget, but what we’re really arguing about is the future of Illinois,” Rauner said. “Are we going to stay under the thumb of these career politicians who are controlling the government for their own benefit or are we going to go in a new direction.”
Metro East social service agencies that help seniors and people who are poor haven’t been able to tap into state funds due to the budget fight. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported last year that Senior Services Plus in Alton shut down its transportation program when the state stopped paying its bills.
Some Democratic contenders in next year’s gubernatorial election have questioned why Rauner was embarking on campaign tour with the budget skirmish unresolved.
“Instead of working on passing a state budget that is now more than 21 months overdue, Gov. Rauner is out campaigning in an attempt to distract us from the 22,000 seniors outside of Chicago who have lost access to services,” Ameya Pawar, a Chicago alderman running for governor, said in a news release this week.
For his part, Rauner told reporters after the speech that he’s “still on the phone” with Illinois legislators, who on recess right now, but return on April 24.
“We’re still negotiating, we’ll never give up,” Rauner said. “This is not an election campaign. This is not about my re-election. That’s not a topic, that’s not an issue. What we’re doing is communicating with the people of Illinois. And we do it through political events, through government communication and events, through social media, earned media, paid media.
“We try to get the message out that we have to change.”
Some Metro East political activists contend the budget impasse is starting to bleed into local politics. One example from John Rosenbaum of O’Fallon is last week’s failed sales tax increases for K-12 schools in St. Clair and Madison counties.
“Why are you asking us for more taxes?” Rosenbaum said. “You agree that we don’t need this tax raise. We just need the people in Illinois in the legislature to do their jobs and pass a budget.”
Mary Thurman, a member of the St. Clair County Republican Committee, said she’s worried the stalemate over the budget will last for a while – possibly until after the 2018 election cycle. But she said she hopes Rauner hangs tough.
“You know I don’t agree with him on everything,” Thurman said. “But I do agree with his stamina and his persistency.”
Five Democrats, including Madison County Superintendent of Schools Bob Daiber, are running for Rauner’s job in next year’s election. Rauner, a multimillionaire and former venture capitalist, put $50 million of his own money into campaign account.
Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum