Rauner Doubles Down on Workers' Compensation Reform in New Op-Ed

Gov. Bruce Rauner published an op-ed in Crain's Chicago Business Wednesday, urging the Illinois General Assembly to reform the state’s workers’ compensation system.

In his piece, Rauner framed workers’ compensation reform as a key component of the state’s economic recovery. The governor noted that Illinois’ total employment peaked in 2000 and that the state would have added 600,000 jobs since then if it kept pace with the rest of the nation’s economic growth.

He claimed the state’s high property taxes and “uncompetitive workers’ compensation system” are deterrents for business owners.

“When it comes to job creation, we have continued to advocate for changes to the workers’ compensation system because of its direct impact on state government and job creation,” Rauner wrote. "As part of a balanced budget, workers’ compensation reform should be a core part of a comprehensive agreement."

Employers in Illinois spend roughly $3 billion yearly on workers' compensation costs to cover medical expenses and disability claims, according to Rauner, who added that government employees apply for workers’ comp 50 percent more than those in the private sector.

After being sworn in nearly two years ago, Rauner unveiled his 44 point “Turnaround Agenda” for Illinois, but has spent much of his term battling House Speaker Michael Madigan and Illinois Democrats, who remain opposed to his platform that includes anti-union legislation, term limits for elected officials and redistricting reform, among several other proposals.

After facing stiff opposition from Madigan and other Democrats, the state’s current stopgap funding compromise includes little trace of his agenda. The compromise was passed at the end of June after Illinois went a year and a half without a budget, and is set to expire at the end of the year.

Since unveiling his agenda, Rauner has narrowed his plan to a handful of points: term limits, more jobs, lower property taxes, better schools, pension reform and workers’ compensation reform.

Rauner halted further budget negotiations earlier this month, calling on Democrats to present a budget proposal. In response, Madigan’s office claimed Monday that the onus is on Rauner, who bears the constitutional duty as governor to submit a balanced budget to the General Assembly by the third Wednesday in February. The legislature then has the power to make decisions on appropriations and taxes.

The Democrats have repeatedly pushed to reestablish working groups for a series of matters, including workers’ compensation. Rauner and Illinois Republicans have opposed the groups, claiming they signal a step in the wrong direction in the negotiating process.

The governor has made it clear that he will only consider another short-term, stopgap funding compromise if it includes a pair of items from his agenda, term limits and a property tax freeze. With only days until the current stopgap expires, it seems likely that the state’s budget impasse will stretch into next year.

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