Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner delivered his fourth annual State of the State address in Springfield Wednesday, issuing a call for bipartisanship in the middle of an already heated campaign season.
“The state of our state today is one of readiness,” Rauner said, “readiness born of unprecedented frustration with our political culture, along with the firm belief that we have tremendous, but as-yet unrealized, economic potential.”
The first-term GOP governor’s speech at the Capitol was a balancing act of sorts. Rauner sought to hit the reset button; it was his first State of the State since the end of the disastrous budget impasse in which he was gridlocked with Democratic legislators for more than two years.
To that end, Rauner listed his accomplishments, looking to draw attention away from the billions of dollars in debt that Illinois racked up during the stalemate under his tenure.
Rauner touted the education funding overhaul passed last year, as well as criminal justice reform measures, support for victims of sexual harassment and job growth, among other initiatives. He coupled that with a plea for bipartisan work towards economic growth that was woven through his speech.
“It takes a collaborative effort, a forget- about-the- politics- and- roll- up- our- sleeves kind of approach,” Rauner said. “It requires a laser-like focus on economic development and job creation and a bipartisan dedication to restore public trust.”
With Democrats holding majorities in both the House and Senate, Rauner didn’t walk into a pep rally – and despite his calls for unity, he could not help swiping at his political nemesis House Speaker Mike Madigan, though not by name, accusing the legislature of working for “expediency rather than effect.”
"Eighty percent of the state’s voters want term limits. The other 20 percent, it seems, are seated in this chamber and in elected Illinois courts," Rauner said, repeating his oft-used push for term limits he's used countless times since he first hit the campaign trail in 2014 - a thinly-veiled dig at Madigan, who has served in the legislature since 1971 and is the longest-serving state House Speaker in U.S. history.
"It is past time to make this good governance move," Rauner continued. "Put term limits on the ballot and let the people decide."
Democrats sat on their hands for much of his speech — most notably in that call for term limits — the governor did earn thunderous applause from both sides when he promised the Capitol a balanced budget next month.
Rauner said his administration’s budget “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.”
He also made a call for unity when it comes to the work ahead, a plea he likened to the state's quest to lure Amazon to Chicago.
"We united last fall to bid for Amazon’s second headquarters," Rauner said, noting the factions that came together to submit a proposal.
"The fact is there is another, much bigger Amazon-like opportunity to pursue. The request for proposal comes from an enterprise called the state of Illinois."
Just weeks away from appearing on the Republican primary ballot, Rauner – who has largely focused his attacks on presumed Democratic frontrunner J.B. Pritzker – also tried to detract from conservative criticism and his challenger from the right, state Rep. Jeanne Ives.
In an endorsement session at the Chicago Tribune Monday, Ives was widely seen as successful in her attacks on Rauner and appeals to the socially conservative Republican base.
That encounter even sparked ads from Pritzker, who, along with the other major Democratic candidates for governor, was in Springfield ready to respond to Rauner’s address.
“After three years of crisis, broken promises, and statewide damage, Bruce Rauner failed to tell you the real state of the state,” Pritzker said in a statement after the speech. “Today, we saw a failed governor double down on his fatal mismanagement of the Quincy Veterans’ crisis, promise a balanced budget when he has failed to deliver one for the last three years, and tout education reform he twice vetoed," Pritzker's statement continued. "Bruce Rauner is right about one thing – we need to come together as a state, but not to pass his failed agenda. It’s time for new leadership, with real plans to unite Illinoisans and move this state forward."
"We need radical change in our state and it starts with ending a system where both parties fail us," Democratic candidate Chris Kennedy said in a statement after Rauner's speech.
"Today's State of the State wasn't much different than his first State of the State. It was filled with empty promises and a thinly veiled blame game. If anything, our state is in worse shape today than it was when Bruce Rauner was first elected. It's been astonishing to see what a complete failure he's been," Kennedy continued. "In just a few short years, he managed to oversee the longest state budget crisis in our country. He decimated our social safety net and cut 1 million people off of government services. He gutted funding for our state's higher education system and he failed to create jobs at the same rate as our neighboring states.
"Bruce Rauner has failed all of us," Kennedy concluded. "It's time for him to go and it's time for us to elect a governor who runs on plans, not platitudes."