For the most part, newly elected governors tend to view lame duck legislative sessions before they take office as primarily someone else’s problem.
After all, taking over as a state’s chief executive is a tall task, and there’s only roughly a couple of months between Election Day and Inauguration Day.
For Republican Bruce Rauner, however, the legislative session slated to begin November 19 in Springfield could prove to be trickier than usual. While Rauner has publicly come out and called for legislators to stand pat and avoid taking up any major issues before he’s in office, a number of potential agenda items could prove to be a problem for Rauner once he’s actually governor.
The biggest, of course, is the issue of the state’s income tax rate. In 2011, Governor Pat Quinn signed into law a “temporary” tax hike, bringing the state’s individual income tax from 3.75 percent to 5 percent, set to expire January 1. Rauner made repealing the tax a centerpiece of his campaign, arguing the tax should be allowed to sunset as scheduled to increase the state’s economic competitiveness.
Yet, such a move isn't so easy. In October, Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka warned the move would be the equivalent of a “financial heart attack" for the Illinois budget. It’s easy to see why: current estimates of the state’s backlog of unpaid bills runs as high as $4.6 billion, even before the tax rate reduction takes effect.
As a result, Rauner’s in a clear bind. Without detailed plans for how to make up the lost revenue, he’s likely to take office facing a massive budget shortfall on Day One. And Democrats in the General assembly seem ill-inclined to lift a finger to help Rauner out of his jam.
While there’s still a possibility Democratic lawmakers could push for an extension of the current rate in the next session, Senate President John Cullerton has said the legislature would not vote to keep the income tax rate where it is beyond January.
A number of other issues are more likely to make the November session a potential thorn in Rauner’s side, however. One is the possibility Democrats could try for an override of ridesharing legislation Quinn vetoed in August. Legislation requiring background checks and insurance requirements was opposed by Rauner, and he had publicly urged Quinn for a veto.
Then there’s always the question of raising the state’s minimum wage. Quinn and Rauner fought a fierce battle over the issue in the campaign, and Rauner now says he supports some version of a higher rate. Yet, if the issue doesn't come up this time around, there’s always the possibility it could happen after Rauner is sworn in, placing the battle right at his doorstep as governor.
Even more controversial, perhaps, is the question of school funding. More than 120 school superintendents, as well as some business and community leaders, have called on Rauner to support SB 16, known as the School Funding Reform Act. Sponsored by Democratic State Senator Andy Manar, the bill is designed to a more equitable means to distribute education funds to school districts across the state, based on property tax values and percentage of low income students, among other measures.
Not everyone is on board with the plan, however, and any fight Rauner avoids if and when the issue comes up in the session is likely to be the last time an education funding issue doesn't directly affect him, his public approval rating or his personal clout with state lawmakers down the road.