Chicago Sun-Times: Rauner talks education, criminal justice as protesters chant ‘Budget first’

By Tina Sfondeles

SPRINGFIELD — As protesters shouted “Budget first” outside the Illinois House chamber, Gov. Bruce Rauner on Wednesday promised big changes to the state’s education funding formula and its criminal justice system, all while minimally mentioning the budget impasse.

In his second State of the State address before the Illinois General Assembly, the Republican governor announced a push for Democratic Senate President John Cullerton’s pension reform legislation, urging both chambers to pass the bill legislation “without delay.”

Rauner also announced a 10-point education plan, which included working with Cullerton to increase state support for education, focusing resources on low income and rural school districts, without taking money away from other districts.

Despite what his administration characterizes as an emphasis on bipartisanship, Rauner pushed for local government control, term limits and redistricting reform — all issues Democrats have rejected.

“To create true long term property tax relief for our taxpayers, we’ve got to give local governments a way to control costs,” Rauner said. “Some have said local control is impossible, and yet many in this Chamber have embraced it before, voting repeatedly to give Chicago more control in its contracting and collective bargaining rules.”

He urged an end to the budget impasse while concluding his speech: “If each of us commits to serious negotiation based on mutual respect for our co-equal branches of government, there’s not a doubt in my mind we can come together to pass a balanced budget alongside reforms. If we work together, Illinois can be both compassionate and competitive.”

For most of Rauner’s 35-minute speech, protesters from various organizations representing unions, senior care workers and  child care workers shouted “Budget first!” Rauner was met with those chants as he left the House chamber.

 “A full seven months after the start of the fiscal year, Illinois leaders have failed to carry out their most basic responsibility — enact a balanced budget that funds vital state services and invests in our state,” Emily Miller, director of policy and advocacy at Voices for Illinois Children, said in a written statement.

“Instead of making a budget agreement with lawmakers his number one priority, the governor described an ambitious plan to restructure pieces of state government, and did not even mention the state budget until the final two minutes of his speech.

“Some of the policy items the governor mentioned have the potential to positively impact our state. Unfortunately, long-term structural reforms will not have the desired positive impact if we continue to disinvest in the families and communities and destroy the state-funded structures that provide public services due to the lack of a fully funded state budget.”

Read the full text of Rauner’s speech here.

Video of the statehouse protest by CCH and others in the Responsible Budget Coalition.

But pro-business groups hailed Rauner’s calls for workers’ compensation reform, a new economic development partnership and investing in education.

“The Illinois Manufacturers’ Association strongly agrees that reinvigorating our economy must continue to be a top priority for leaders in the state,” the group said in a statement. “Illinois cannot afford to wait and risk losing another 14,000 good-paying manufacturing jobs this year that serve as the backbone of our middle class.”

“We are hopeful that leaders on both sides of the aisle can come together to achieve innovative solutions that will move Illinois forward.”

The Illinois Working Together coalition of unions saw nothing new in Rauner’s remarks.

“Governor Bruce Rauner’s administration has been an unmitigated disaster for the working people and most vulnerable citizens of Illinois,” the labor organization said in a statement.

“He has repeatedly shown an inability or unwillingness to work together, instead forcing conflict and demanding divisive policies that benefit the wealthy at the expense of the rest of us. He said nothing today to change that.”