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Rauner's State Of The State Speech Met With 'Meh' From Democrats, Ire By Unions

By Chuck Sudo in News on Feb 5, 2015 3:10PM

Saying “it’s now or never for Illinois,” Gov. Bruce Rauner laid out an ambitious first-year agenda during his State of the State address Wednesday that had Republicans in the state Legislature feeling like they had a strong voice in state government for the first time in years and the Democratic majority warily eyeing the rookie governor.

Rauner’s 30-minute speech, which can be read in full here, calls for a hike in the state minimum wage (albeit to $10 an hour over a seven year period); increased funding for early childhood education, community colleges and technical training programs; parole system reform; term limits for politicians; consolidating local government; banning certain campaign contributions; workers compensation reform; and a two-year freeze on property taxes while increasing the state sales tax.

Rauner saved some of his sharpest barbs for organized labor and called for “right to work” laws that would allow government employees the option to join a union, a move Rauner practically telegraphed in a memo to legislators prior to his speech, adding that right to work laws would make Illinois “competitive” again.

“Government unions should not be allowed to influence the public officials they are lobbying, and sitting across the bargaining table from, through campaign donations and expenditures,” Rauner said.

Labor unions, naturally, were seething after Rauner’s speech and went immediately on the attack. Illinois Federation of Teachers president Dan Montgomery said Rauner’s right to work proposal would do more harm than good.

Austerity isn’t a path toward prosperity. As teachers and public employees, we’ve endured plenty of shared sacrifice in our classrooms and communities. It’s time for corporations and the very wealthy to pitch in - especially since an overwhelming majority of voters demanded that millionaires pay their fair share for education just a few months ago.

The Chicago Teachers Union also derided Rauner’s right to work proposal and added the governor’s minimum wage hike plan “only serves to erode people’s buying power. That level of change does not keep pace with inflation, and prevents Illinois’ economic growth.”

“Rauner’s so-called ‘employee empowerment’ plan only serves to disempower employees by eliminating their voice in the workplace. His stated goal of cutting public employees’ wages and retired workers’ pensions disproportionately impacts women and people of color, as public sector jobs have for decades provided women and African-Americans a path to the middle class. As such, the governor is willfully proposing to slow the local economy on the South and Northwest sides of Chicago, neighborhoods that have been left out of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s downtown development strategy.

Rauner’s speech was met with differing reactions from Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, who hold veto-proof Democratic supermajorities. Cullerton said Rauner “squandered (the opportunity) with campaign rhetoric that denigrates the reputation of the state.” Madigan, meanwhile, was more measured in his response and said the House will tackle Rauner’s agenda on a case-by-case basis.

“They’ll be disposed of by the legislature — some favorably, and some not favorably.”

Rauner didn’t publicly address Illinois’ pension morass nor did he offer details on how he would fund his agenda. Maybe that will become clear when he unveils his budget in a couple weeks.