Legislators review governor’s ‘State of the State’ address
by KEVIN GROSS
Some Northwest Side lawmakers said that Governor Bruce Rauner took credit for accomplishments that he didn’t contribute to and that his words about bipartisanship were hollow in reaction to his "State of the State" address on Jan. 31.
"I’ve seen two ‘State of the State’ speeches with Quinn, four with Rauner. This was the shortest one I’ve ever seen," state Representative Robert Martwick (D-19) said. "When they passed the written remarks I wondered, is this the ‘Reader’s Digest version?’ He might be realizing there’s not a lot of good things he can talk about."
During the speech, Rauner praised the school-funding bill that he signed into law in August of last year at Ebinger School, 7350 W. Pratt Ave. The bill changed the funding formula for state schools and created a $75 million tax credit program for people who donate to private school scholarships, and allowed Chicago to increase property taxes to fund teachers’ pensions. Rauner vetoed a similar bill in July, calling it a "bailout for Chicago Public Schools" and the Senate overrode the veto but there were not enough votes to override the veto in the House.
"The key to job creation is education and training … During our time in the executive branch, funding for kindergarten through twelfth schools has increased $1.2 billion, and that includes record levels of funding for early childhood education," Rauner said in the speech. "We enacted historic reforms to end one of the most inequitable school funding formulas in the country. For most districts it will be a welcome and long overdue infusion of new money for their programs. Now, need dictates resources, not zip codes."
However, some lawmakers criticized Rauner’s lack of cooperation with their efforts to pass that bill.
"I certainly think $1.2 billion in additional funds for education is good, but he can’t say it’s a good thing when a few months ago (he) tried to block that," Martwick said, referring to Rauner’s vetoes.
"One of his major bragging points is increasing funds for education, but every year our state is almost flat broke. You don’t get additional money without finding it, deciding where the sources will come from, but he never tried to find that," Martwick said.
State Representative Martin Moylan (D-55) said in a statement, "Now he is trying to take credit for these historic reforms that increased funding for our local schools even though they were accomplished without any of his input.
"Additionally, his decision to make last minute changes to the agreement has jeopardized much needed dollars from reaching our schools," Moylan said referring to the "Invest in Kids" private tuition scholarship program.
State Senator Laura Murphy (D-28) said that it was hypocritical for the governor to highlight support for schools while cutting state support for higher education.
"I believe it’s been a $2 billion economic impact in potential revenue loss from 60,000 students leaving, as a result of cutting funds and grants for higher education," she said.
Despite Rauner’s calls for bipartisan cooperation in the speech, Northwest Side lawmakers continued to decry Rauner’s inability to compromise or work across the aisle.
"I don’t know anyone in this chamber, or in this state, who isn’t frustrated when we spend beyond our means, or borrow to cover deficits, or let pension issues go unresolved," Rauner said. "Yet there is example after example of what can be done on a bipartisan basis to reverse the trend."
State Senator Omar Aquino (D-2) said in a statement, "He hasn’t met with the four legislative leaders since December 2016, yet the governor called for better collaboration in state government in his ‘State of the State’ address. With so much divisiveness at the federal level, we need a governor who will take charge and lead instead of pointing fingers."
"Rather than take charge, he has decided to obstruct our bipartisan efforts to pass a fair and balanced budget, enact equal pay laws, and delay funding to our schools," state Representative Jaime Andrade Jr. (D-40) said in a statement. "I invite the governor to come to the table and help us pass the real reforms our state needs."
The governor also talked about his efforts to veto unbalanced budgets during the historic budget impasse.
"We have vetoed unbalanced budgets that would push us deeper into debt. We vetoed tax increases that Illinoisans couldn’t afford," Rauner said. "And we vetoed the 32 percent income tax increase enacted last summer."
Lawmakers said that the governor’s vetoes were irresponsible and harmful.
"The fiscal irresponsibility of accumulating $16 billion in debt while doing nothing to address pensions, while killing business, while cutting services, is appalling," Martwick said. "Bar none, he is the most fiscally irresponsible governor we’ve ever had, even more than Rod Blagojevich."
Murphy said that the state had accrued $12 million per day in additional debt during the budget impasse.
"I’ve not heard the governor make any concrete plan on pension reforms, nor have I heard him speak of any plans to reconcile the deficit," she said.
State Senator John Mulroe (D-10) said that it is easy to vote no in Springfield on controversial issues and easy to vote yes on "easy items."
Mulroe described the negotiations for the income tax increase as another example of Rauner’s failure to collaborate.
"We’ve come to 4.95 percent for the income tax rate. I think 15 Republicans in the House and one in the Senate voted for that rate. Its so striking, people ask why that number?" Mulroe said. "It had everything to do with the fact that 5 percent is the rate that a governor named Quinn enacted. Republicans said ‘No way we will have the same rates as Quinn.’ As silly as it is, that’s how negotiations are. That’s what we got, but then Rauner turned around and even vetoed that.
"Even if you talk to other Republicans some of them have lost faith in him," Mulroe said. "He says he’s moving the goal post. He’s almost negotiating against himself. He’s telling us one thing and then he wants more. (Republicans) didn’t believe this at first until they went to the room, were told ‘We need this rate,’ and then they get that rate. Then they go back to the governor and he says ‘We actually want this now.’ Deep down, I think Rauner was encouraging Republicans to vote yes, but he gets to take credit for vetoing it."
In the speech, Rauner also said that he would submit a balanced budget proposal within the next month, saying it "will offer a path to reduced spending, and it will show the way to surpluses going forward so we can reduce taxes and start to push back against the assault on middle class bank accounts."
"When he said he’s going to bring a balanced budget in two weeks, the place went up for grabs," Mulroe said. "I’m very anxious to hear his budget address, and I’m hoping he talks reality and not fantasy."
However, lawmakers remained skeptical of any meaningful change in Rauner’s dynamic as he is running for re-election.
"If you were a social service agency relying on state revenue, how can you repair that when you already decimated services? How can you bring back students who left after not paying their MAP Grants?" Murphy said. "I don’t know if the damage he caused is reparable."
"The State of the State addresses have really become like a sales pitch, instead of giving us an idea of where we’re at," Martwick said. "What I’d hope to get to hear in a state address or budget address before him or I leave is an honest assessment of what the problems are."