State Government

New Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner administration: Lawmakers, experts weigh in

Lawmakers, experts analyze administration’s future

When CEOs want things done, their employees leap into action and get them done.

It’s not a management philosophy that works when a Republican CEO is elected governor with a General Assembly dominated by the other party.

But Springfield watchers and McHenry County’s state representatives said they are confident that Governor-elect Bruce Rauner will work well with Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton to address the significant hurdles facing Illinois.

The bottom line is that both sides are going to have to make deals to move initiatives through, said David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.

“Cullerton, Madigan and Rauner are all grown-ups, and they all got where they were in life by making deals, and so I fully expect, now that the bluster of the campaign is out of the way, that they’ll sit down and find some sort of accommodations. It is in nobody’s political interest to have gridlock, shutdowns and that sort of thing, so they’ll work something out,” Yepsen said.

Rauner bucked the polls that long predicted a neck-and-neck race, and the wealthy equity investor beat Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn by 4.5 percent, or more than 163,000 votes, according to unofficial vote totals. Quinn inherited the office in 2009 following the impeachment of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and narrowly won his sole full term in 2010.

Democratic state Rep. Jack Franks said he anticipates that Rauner and Madigan will have a good working relationship based on past history. Of the three governors Franks has served with since his 1998 election – Blagojevich, Quinn and Republican George Ryan – Madigan had the best working relationship by far with Ryan, Franks said. Madigan had a standoffish relationship with Quinn, and a downright hostile one with Blagojevich.

Franks said he is meeting with Rauner sometime this week at the governor-elect’s request to talk about ideas for tax reform policies and streamlining government. Franks has attempted numerous bills aimed at property tax reform and trimming government, both of which were Rauner campaign platforms.

“It depends a lot on Rauner. My suggestion to his top staff was to be collaborative. If they’re collaborative and they try to seek common ground, a lot will get done. If he tries to dictate things, there will be gridlock and things will turn very ‘Blagojevichian,’” said Franks, D-Marengo.

But not all experts are sold on the idea that a cordial working relationship will equal real progress in tackling the state’s deep economic problems. Doing so will require tough votes, said Paul Green, director of the Institute for Politics at Roosevelt University in Chicago, and tough votes are precisely what state lawmakers have been so adept at avoiding to hold onto power.

“For some people it’s going to be political suicide,” Green said. “I really don’t think that either party is ready to deal with those issues.”

The tone for the relationship between Rauner and the General Assembly could be set in part by what Quinn and lawmakers do, or don’t do, when they convene later this month for the fall veto session and the January lame-duck session before the new General Assembly is sworn in. In his first news conference since Tuesday’s election, Rauner asked lawmakers not to take any action on significant issues, such as raising the minimum wage, until he takes office. Despite wavering on the issue early in his campaign, he said he supports raising the minimum wage if it is coupled with pro-business legislation such as tort and workers compensation reform.

Both Yepsen and state Rep. Mike Tryon, R-Crystal Lake, anticipate that the lame-duck session will be a dull one, and efforts to ram through items will not be successful. Rauner’s victory likely means that the unpopular 67-percent income tax increase that Democratic lawmakers rammed through during the lame-duck session after Quinn’s 2010 election will sunset significantly Jan. 1 as promised – Cullerton has already said that he will “absolutely not” extend it in the final days of session should Rauner win.

Lawmakers would then have to scramble to patch the budget for the current fiscal year expiring June 30, which relied on the tax hikes being permanent as Quinn requested. It would also be Rauner’s job to develop a 2016 budget without that extra income – his budget plan during the campaign called on the tax increase to be phased out over four years.

“Rauner very much opposed the tax increase,” said Matt Streb, chairman of the political science department at Northern Illinois University. “But he’s going to have to figure out a way to balance the budget.”

And the greatest unknown when it comes to the state’s troubled finances is whether the Illinois Supreme Court will strike down the pension reform bill approved by lawmakers in 2013 in hopes of reining in more than $100 billion in unfunded liability for pensions, which now eat more than 20 percent of state general fund spending. Experts almost unanimously anticipate that the court will find the reforms unconstitutional, citing a ruling earlier this year striking down a related reform aimed at retirees’ health insurance premiums. Rauner opposed the reform measure, arguing that it does not go far enough and that existing retirees’ benefits should not be altered.

Green isn’t among the pundits who are betting that the high court will toss the reforms.

“I think there is a definite possibility that there could be a surprise. The Supreme Court justices know what’s at stake. I think they can find some wiggle room because the alternative is major, almost bone-chilling tax increases, and almost equally-chilling cuts,” Green said.

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