Legislators react to governor’s state address
by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
Some Northwest Side legislators said Governor Bruce Rauner’s "State of the State" address failed to address what they think is the most pressing issue for Illinois — the lack of a state budget, despite the governor’s insistence on reforming workers compensation and pensions and focusing on education and reducing the tax burden for residents.
"The speech was so bizarre," state Representative Robert Martwick (D-19) said. "He didn’t event touch on the fact that we don’t have a budget.
"He said he wants to work in a bipartisan way and that we need to drop the political ideology, but then he said he wants the ‘Turnaround Agenda.’ Hey, that’s your ideology."
"It was a disingenuous speech," Martwick said. "I doubt that even he thought that it was a sincere speech."
In the 35-minute speech, Rauner mentioned the lack of a state budget in the closing remarks.
"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," Rauner said.
"Our job in this capitol is to improve the lives of all the people of Illinois, through more economic opportunity, better educational opportunity and more value for their hard-earned tax dollars," Rauner said. "To achieve a grand compromise, we must cast partisanship and ideology aside. We must break from the politics of the past and do what is right for the long term future of our state."
Martwick said that most legislators are ready to work on the budget but that the budget impasse, which is in its eighth month, could continue until past the general election in November.
"Everybody is itching to get back to work, but he only talks to four of us and everyone is feeling the same sense of frustration," Martwick said. "Every one of the leaders give their statements that say the opposite things, and maybe it’s time to have the rank-and-file members step up and have a bigger role. What’s been going on is not productive."
Martwick said that many constituents have told him that he has to fight for what’s right and that the governor’s anti-union agenda is not the way to go. "We can’t just give in to the governor’s demands," he said. "The governor will say that it is all or nothing. Well, I’m sorry to say, I guess it’s going to have to be nothing."
State Senator John Mulroe (D-10) said that he was disappointed that Rauner did not address the budget.
"I just don’t know what is happening any more," Mulroe said. "He didn’t mention the budget. It’s really frustrating. No one over there has clean hands in this case, but at some point we have to do what is right."
"He was just reading from the teleprompter, and it seemed like he was rushing through it," Mulroe said. "People were upset. People are walking around the capitol just shaking their heads because they have never seen anything like this, and they have been here for years."
Mulroe said that the state has spent 90 percent of the revenue that it had from last year.
"People use the analogy that the governor is holding education hostage," Mulroe said. "Well, what happens in a hostage situation if the negotiations go on too long? People start to get hurt in a hostage situation, and it’s usually the hostages.
State Representative John D’Amico (D-15) said that the state is in worse condition than when Rauner took office. D’Amico said that seniors are being forced into nursing homes and at-risk women are denied cancer screenings because the governor is refusing to drop his "anti-middle class agenda" and work to craft a budget.
"Our lack of a budget isn’t a game, and it’s devastating many residents and damaging vital services that shouldn’t be used as a political bargaining chip," D’Amico said in a statement. "We must take a balanced approach to the budget that eliminates perks for politicians and taxpayer-funded pensions for lobbyists while protecting programs that victims of sexual assault and child abuse rely upon. There is middle ground, and I hope that we can meet there so we can ensure our most vulnerable residents are not denied care any longer.
State Senator William Delgado (D-2) said in a statement that he didn’t see any progress being made, despite what the governor suggested.
"Social service providers are being dismantled, the quality of senior care is eroding, and many working families still are unable to access affordable child care," Delgado said. "We all need to focus on finding solutions that help move our state forward. No more blaming and finger pointing, just cooperation."
State Senator Iris Martinez (D-20) said that she appreciated that the governor appeared to be more willing to compromise and work in a bipartisan fashion.
"However, it’s just a speech," Martinez said. "It did not get us any closer to a budget. The governor needs to focus on approving a budget so that our seniors can get the meals and support they need, our college students can get the financial aid the state committed to them and those who are homeless can be helped."
State Representative Jaime Andrade Jr. (D-40) said that Rauner continues to use the budget impasse as leverage to demand policies that drive down wages and opportunity for working families.
"Single mothers working hard to provide a brighter future for their children should not see their child care used as a negotiating chip for the governor to get what he wants," Andrade said. "A recent high school graduate from a low-income area, who worked hard to become the first member of their family to attend college, should not see their academic dreams sacrificed for the governor’s demands, and struggling families should not face homelessness when affordable housing programs are forgotten and allowed to fail."
Andrade said that he would work to pass a progressive tax system and propose that millionaires pay more to fund education.
"As the budget impasse continues in Springfield, I urge Governor Rauner to stop insisting on bringing non-budgetary items into this debate and work cooperatively with the General Assembly in passing a responsible budget as soon as possible," state Representative Martin Moylan (R-55) said. "The state of the state is in total disrepair, and we need to work together to balance the state’s budget, just like the hard-working families of my district must do every day."
Rauner said in the speech that the state has the potential to lead the nation in growth and opportunity because of its rich history in manufacturing.
"And yet, jobs and people are leaving our state," Rauner said." And we watch other states emerge from the Great Recession, while our employment and growth stagnates.
"We have fewer jobs today than we had at the turn of this century. Our average working family is making less than they were 8 years ago. We are virtually tied for the highest property taxes in America, and we have far more layers of government and mountains of debt at every level."
Rauner said that the state has lost more than 300,000 manufacturing jobs.
"I understand that union leaders and trial lawyers are putting pressure on you to keep the status quo, but if we don’t offer a competitive environment for businesses, pretty soon the unions won’t have any more jobs to unionize and the trial lawyers won’t have any more businesses to sue."
Rauner said that in order to bring jobs to Illinois, the state needs to fix the workers compensation system, labor regulations, liability costs and property taxes that make the state uncompetitive and push job creators out.
"The cost of workers comp is the biggest factor driving our job losses," Rauner said. "If we simply aligned our workers comp costs with those of a state like Massachusetts — which is hardly a bastion of conservatism — we can save state and local taxpayers over $300 million per year while protecting those who suffer workplace injuries, and grow more careers at higher wages.
"One of our biggest taxpayer protection initiatives is to take on the compensation costs of our state government," Rauner said. "Most of our state employees are terrific, hard-working public servants. They deserve to be well paid and receive higher compensation in the future, but it should be based in part upon higher productivity and shared benefits in taxpayer savings, rather than just seniority.
"Unfortunately, the compensation demands being made by AFSCME leaders are out of touch with reality. Adjusted for the cost of living, we already have the highest paid state employees in America. Undeterred and unashamed, AFSCME is demanding $3 billion more in overall compensation. That $3 billion should go into our schools and human services, not into government bureaucracy."
Rauner said that he would work with state Senator John Cullerton (D-6) to increase state support for education, provide proper funding for early childhood education while setting rigorous benchmarks for program performance, give school districts more flexibility when it comes to bargaining, contracting, and bidding, to save taxpayers money, while enabling districts to pay higher teacher salaries, empower universities and community colleges to reduce administrative costs, support more partnerships between high schools, community colleges and local employers, and support programs that create more quality school choice options for low income children in failing schools.
"I heard the governor echo my call for making school funding reform a priority and his desire to come up with a system that better recognizes the needs of students living in poverty and those facing other challenges," Cullerton said. I commend him on that stand. An equitable school funding system is the turnaround Illinois needs.
"However, while I appreciate the governor’s support in these key areas, there are many areas of disagreement. On a daily basis our safety net is unraveling, leaving disabled seniors and homeless veterans nowhere to go.
"We’re not honoring our student aid commitments to college students. We’re not providing any public support to our public universities and colleges. That’s all because of the stance the governor has taken over the state’s budget. He caused this. He can end it."