Gov. Bruce Rauner has laid out a first-year agenda he says will make Illinois more competitive and "empower" people and local governments. The Winnetka Republican delivered his first State of the State address Wednesday.
"Our workers compensation, unemployment insurance and liability costs all rank among the worst in America. Those costs add up to far more than just numbers on an accountant's balance sheet," Rauner said. "They impact real people with real jobs and real families."
Rauner also wants to strip some powers from labor unions. Among them is letting local government employees decide if they want to join a union. Rauner is also calling for a two-year freeze of property taxes and says he's open to raising the minimum wage from $8.25 to $10 over seven years. "Over the past decade, the average property tax bill has increased nearly 33 percent. Meanwhile, real family incomes in Illinois have gone down. Families have been left with less income and more taxes. Our property taxes are out-of-control and are crushing middle class families," said Rauner. The Democratic-controlled Legislature will oppose many of Rauner's proposals. Rauner said his agenda should appeal to lawmakers from both parties, but added that "we should consider it as a whole, not as a list of individual initiatives." That suggestion raised a few Democratic hackles, like those of Rep. Elaine Nekritz, from Northbrook. "I was like, wow, there’s a way to enter into a negotiation, isn’t it? To say that it’s my way or the highway?"
Lawmakers from both parties are still eager to hear what Rauner will do about the state’s massive financial problems. That will have to wait two more weeks until his budget address.
Since being elected, Rauner has said he doesn't just want Illinois to be competitive – he also wants it to be compassionate. But Representative Greg Harris, a Democrat from Chicago, said Wednesday's speech emphasized the state's business climate over the state's needy.
"They do not mention that they have just eliminated violence prevention funding, like Governor Rauner did over the weekend. They don't mention that they just eliminated employment funding for at-risk youth. Those are unpleasant truths," Harris said.
Last week, health and human service agencies began to run out of grant funding left over from the previous governor's administration.
Rauner says his plan is aggressive, but necessary. He says: "It's now or never for Illinois. It's time to act."