I'm a liberal and I desperately want Republican Governor Bruce Rauner to succeed. By some estimates, Illinois faces as much as a $9 billion dollar budget deficit for the coming year. For decades, under governors of both parties, the state failed to support its pension funds and it failed to address a structural deficit in its budget. We're a mess. As a result, Illinois voters turned to a billionaire to bail them out and, like most people, I hoped we were getting a practical, capable executive. We have not yet seen that man. His mistakes have been legion. This AP story supports many of the claims I make below.
First, he signed a series of executive orders that no one quite understands. They were designed to freeze spending and address alleged corruption, yet they were so badly drafted, no one quite knows what they mean or what sorts of acts will violate them. Now, Rauner is no lawyer, but he did hire the people who drafted these orders which leads to...
Second, Rauner has spent much of the transition and his early days as governor misleadingly and hypocritically attacking those he is supposed to lead. He's argued repeatedly that state employees are paid too much, using a Pew study that failed to correct for comparable education and skill levels. A 2013 UI study did and found that public employees in Illinois could expect to be paid 13.5% less than similar folks in the private sector. Now, that includes local employees, but nonetheless, it casts serious doubt on Rauner's claim. Moreover, he's paying his office staff 36% more than his predecessor. He's justified that by saying, get this, that they're taking significant cuts to leave the private sector and thus he has to pay them something like what they're worth. Yes, Governor, that's right, public employees make LESS, contrary to what you've been saying. And how good are these people if they can't catch THIS gaffe or draft a clear executive order?
Third, he's spent the last few weeks blaming everything but the pension problems for the deficit. There are issues. But, he's not quite telling the truth. There is a rise in Medicaid recipients, but the feds are covering nearly all of that. He decries the business environment and argues for right to work laws, but Moody's Analytics notes that "Illinois' business climate outshines its regional rivals," and that business costs "are now lower than those in Wisconsin and Ohio but higher than those in neighboring Missouri and Indiana." The latter is likely true because of "high metropolitan areas [Chicago] with unique features that appeal to business such as California and New York" do. Plus, right to work laws reduce union membership but likely do not contribute to economic growth in the long run due to the "downward pressure on incomes" that results.
Fourth, his animus toward unions is significantly damaging his political credibility. Illinois is a blue state. Both houses of the state legislature have Democratic super-majorities. Not simply majorities--super majorities, enough Ds to pass anything over the Governor's veto. Plus, even Republicans like public unions in Illinois. When the anti-union theme of his recent tour of the state became clear, only 1 Republican lawmaker showed up for his speech in Decatur and none in Champaign. Downstate. That's Republicanland. Those are areas represented by Republican Congressmen. Respect for him is low enough that when he offered his own plan for a long term minimum wage hike during his State of the State address, Democratic legislators openly laughed. And, again, they're a super majority.
Most important, he's simply refused to speak about the elephant in the room--the budget crisis. He's offered no hints, no plans, no trial balloons on his budget, nothing nada, not in his Inaugural nor in his State of the State. It's as if when Ronald Reagan assumed office in 1981, he decided that, rather than persuading people to support his budget plans, he would speak about free trade agreements. Reagan liked free trade and it was part of the conservative agenda, but it was completely beside the point at that point. The crap Rauner is peddling is beside the point and he's wasting precious time and capital doing so.
Bruce Rauner had--still has--two choices. He can be Jim Edgar, a wonderful former Republican Governor who focused like a laser beam on the state's problems and worked with Democrats to solve them. Or, he can be Scott Walker. Yeech. So far, he's chosen the latter. I hope he changes his mind.