Bruce Rauner is the first Republican Illinois governor not to go to prison elected in the last 20 years. He faces clear Democratic majorities in both houses of the legislature. But Rauner didn’t back down one iota from the campaign rhetoric that elected him in an upset last November.
In his State of the State message this week, Rauner took aim at what he has called a “corrupt” system in which public employee unions use dues money to elect candidates who, once elected, then handle contract negotiations with them.
Rauner wants to ban such donations and allow state employees to decide if they want to join a union. He also favors ending “uncompetitive bidding” which requires state and local construction projects to, in effect, pay only union wages. Another Rauner idea is the creation of “empowerment zones” in which businesses could operate outside of union requirements. Liberals promptly slammed the idea as creating “right-to-work zones.”
“Instead of seeking solutions that empower all the working families of Illinois to fuel the economy, his proposals will destabilize middle-class economic security by cutting compensation for injured workers, defunding unemployment insurance reserves, demonizing public employees and suppressing wages,” Michael Carrigan, AFL-CIO state president, said in a statement.
Rauner didn’t stop with union reform. He wants a two-year freeze in local property taxes, to lift the statewide cap on charter schools, an eight-year limit on terms for state officials and legislators, and limits on lawsuit damage awards.
Much of Rauner’s agenda will face tough going in the legislature and he lacks the power to put much of it on the ballot for the voters theselves to decide. But the debate in Illinois has certainly shifted very quickly — from how to manage the state’s seemingly inevitable decline to one about whether or not it can be saved.