Rauner Lays Out Solutions in State of the State Address

Speech comes as some state agencies and programs already are running out of money this year and with Illinois facing an even greater budget gap next year

Gov. Bruce Rauner on Wednesday laid out a first-year agenda that he says will make Illinois more competitive and "empower" citizens and local governments.

In his State of the State address Wednesday before lawmakers in Springfield (.pdf), the Winnetka Republican called for stripping some powers from labor unions, a two-year freeze of property taxes, an increase in the state minimum wage, term limits for politicians, an increase in funding for early childhood education, increased investment in community colleges and technical training, consolidating units of government, and a reform of the parole system and investments in a state program that keeps non-violent offenders out of prison.

"It's now or never for Illinois. It's time to act," he told a joint session of lawmakers during a midday speech at the Illinois Statehouse.

Rauner said part of "empowering" employees is letting local government employees decide if they want to join a union.

He also called for a two-year freeze of property taxes and said he's open to raising the minimum wage from $8.25 to $10 over seven years.

With regard to term limits, Rauner said he wants a Constitutional question put to voters in 2016. He said term limits overcome the power of incumbency and bring "fresh thinking" to government.

He backed a signature drive for term limits and other reforms during the 2014 governor's election. The courts ultimately found the measure unconstitutional for the ballot.

He also said the state should consolidate or eliminate some of its more than 7,000 units of government. Illinois has more government units -- about 7,000 of them -- than any other state, he said. They include school districts, townships and fire protection districts.

"Taxpayers can no longer afford all of them," he told lawmakers.

Rauner's agenda calls for a task force, led by Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti, to identify ways to consolidate government.

He pointed to steps taken by DuPage County to consolidate its government agencies. DuPage County Chairman Dan Cronin's office said those efforts helped save about $30 million per year and eliminate 50 fulltime positions.

Rauner said DuPage County is "a role model for all of us."

He proposed freezing property taxes for two years and expanding the sales tax base as part of a "taxpayer empowerment" plan. Rauner called for real estate taxes to not increase above 2015 levels except for new construction or property under other narrow restrictions.

He wants to "modernize" the sales tax to include services such as haircuts or automotive repairs.

The governor proposed increasing funding for early childhood education and investing more in community colleges and technical training.

He said the increases should be a top priority, despite warning for weeks of painful budget cuts. He said Illinois must "avoid slipping further behind other states in the quality of our children's education."

Still, Rauner didn't say how he'd pay for the increase or how it might affect other areas of the budget.

Rauner has invested millions of his own money in education reform efforts and said he wants to lift the cap on charter schools to offer more choices.

Pointing to the state's criminal justice system, Rauner called for more prison guards, arguing it would make citizens safer. He also said he wants to continue to invest in a program known as Adult Redeploy. It helps fund programs that divert non-violent offenders to community-based programs, rather than sending them to prison.

He hasn't said how his administration would pay for the additional employees, or how much the new hires would add to the state payroll.

Rauner is expected to lay out his proposed budget Feb. 18. The state faces a $5.7 billion budget gap next year after the expiration of Illinois' temporary income tax increase.

The Democratic-controlled Legislature will oppose many of Rauner's proposals.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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