Gov. Bruce Rauner delivered his third budget address Wednesday in Springfield, lauding the developing Senate "grand bargain" as a sign of progress amid the state's nearly two-year impasse.
"For the first time, legislators from both parties are standing together to say that Illinois must have structural change to grow our economy and create good jobs in every part of our state," Rauner said. "That budgets must be truly balanced for the long term – and that to achieve balanced budgets, changes must be made to fix our broken system. “
Rauner thanked Senate President John Cullerton and Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno for their leadership, noting that he doesn't want to "disrupt the momentum" of their ongoing budget plan and has largely tried to stay out of negotiations.
The Republican said he's open to raising Illinois' income tax and expanding the state's sales tax to get the Senate deal done, but claimed it's "not fair" to include a permanent income tax increase with only a temporary property tax freeze. Instead, he encouraged members of the General Assembly to pass a permanent property tax freeze, like the one the House passed last month. Despite his newfound flexibility, Rauner noted that he wouldn't support new taxes on food, medicine or retirement income.
"The final result must be a good deal for taxpayers and job creators: a grand bargain that truly balances the budget once and for all, and really moves the needle when it comes to jobs creation," he said.
Rauner also said the state's reliance on raising taxes and borrowing has driven job creators out of Illinois, further faulting the state's flawed workers' compensation system. He noted that Illinois has lost jobs, while neighboring states have added positions, pointing to an "exodus" of Illinoisans who have "voted with their feet" by leaving the state.
"They're leaving for jobs, higher wages and lower costs of living," Rauner said.
"If Illinois were more competitive, if we had just grown Illinois' economy like an average state, today, we would have 650,000 more jobs here," he added.
He claimed that average growth would have resulted in budget surpluses, an empty bill backlog and $8.5 billion more in cash, despite the state's "historic spending."
In response to the state's fiscal woes, Rauner proposed his latest budget Wednesday, which includes term limits, economic changes to grow jobs, pension reform, and workers' compensation reform that the governor claims will lead to lower property taxes. Some lawmakers openly laughed when Rauner claimed the package is in balance.
Rauner's plan also includes record funding for schools, a proposal for a new VA home in Chicago, added state troopers for Chicago and the city's highways, and a new focus on combating the state's opioid crisis, among other measures. In addition, Rauner pushed a "hard cap" on state spending and reiterated his plan to sell Chicago's James R. Thompson Center, which he said could generate $200 million for the state.
"Illinois faces incredible challenges," Rauner said, restating his message from last month's State of the State address. "But those challenges also provide unprecedented opportunity. We are at a crossroads. If we work together and make the right decisions now, the potential of our state is unlimited."
Rauner's teleprompter briefly went down during his speech, at which point the governor jokingly ask members of the General Assembly if they had a story to tell. House Speaker Michael Madigan, Rauner's chief political foe, quipped that the Russians were responsible for the disruption, adding some levity to the governor's dire speech.
In response to Rauner's speech, Madigan was sober and frank, noting that "it appears for the third straight year that Governor Rauner has failed to introduce a balanced budget."
“As the governor told a newspaper recently, his plan is to ‘stay the course,’" Madigan said in a statement. "That means continuing to use the disabled, the elderly, school children, victims of abuse, and many others as negotiating tools in his effort to increase profits of big corporations at the expense of middle class and struggling families. ‘Staying the course’, as the Governor wishes, means billions of dollars in new debt, and lost services for tens of thousands of Illinois’ most vulnerable children, seniors and families."
Madigan claimed Democrats in Springfield are "proposing a new path forward" and want to work with Rauner to pass a full-year balanced budget that addresses "the needs of middle class and struggling families, cares for the elderly, invests in our schools, and keeps our communities safe."
“We want solutions that address the challenges Illinois is facing right now," the speaker added.
Although many vital state functions are still being funded through court orders and consent decrees, Illinois' health and human services and higher education continue to languish as a result of the impasse, leaving many of the most vulnerable Illinoisans in a precarious position.
Additionally, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and a group of 15 Chicagoland mayors urged the governor Wednesday to "stop the impasse and pass a balanced budget."
"Fortunately, leaders in both chambers have taken steps toward a bipartisan budget. Today, we are calling on the governor to do the same and to personally engage in a budget solution that would end the gridlock and allow all Illinoisans to thrive," the group said.