SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) -- Gov. Bruce Rauner says he has called a meeting for Thursday with legislative leaders to discuss the final weeks of the spring session.
The Republican told reporters in Chicago Tuesday that his top priority is a balanced budget for the year that begins July 1.
The plan he laid out in February would balance it by radically changing state-employee pension programs, limiting health insurance benefits and requiring school districts to pay portions of teachers' pensions.
Democrats who control the Legislature generally oppose the insurance and teachers' pension provisions.
Rauner says he will also push for property tax reductions, seek to revamp an incentive program for economic growth, await a task force recommendation on reducing gun violence, pursue stronger sexual-harassment penalties and continue his yearslong push for officeholder term limits.
Governor Bruce Rauner today framed his legislative agenda for the upcoming session of the Illinois General Assembly around two key imperatives: a truly balanced, full-year FY19 budget. To start the process, Rauner asked House and Senate leaders to meet with him to agree on budget basics like certifying FY19 revenues and spending within the state’s means.
“Our administration presented a balanced 12-month budget plan to the legislature in February,” Rauner said. “It calls for an end to deficit spending and legislation to grow our economy and create new jobs. It is a solid plan that puts us on a path toward fiscal accountability and the prospect of tax reductions in the years ahead.”
The Governor said that the legislature could cut the income tax by as much as a billion dollars if it has the courage to enact comprehensive pension reform using Senate President John Cullerton’s consideration model, which won bipartisan support in the Senate last year but stalled in the House.
“Pension expenses take up 25% of our budget and the costs are rising at unsustainable rates,” Rauner said. “As a result, we have fewer dollars for education, human services, public safety, and infrastructure.”
Rauner, who laid out his agenda at a press conference this morning, also wants legislators to address the state’s crushing property tax burden. Illinoisans pay the highest rates in the Midwest.
“The system traps people in their homes, vaporizes their equity, drives mortgages under water, and in some cases, pushes people out of our state. We have to fix it,” he said.
The Governor favors a property tax freeze along with citizens empowerment legislation that encourages consolidation of units of local government and gives local governments the tools needed to control and lower costs.
Ready to work with the General Assembly
Rauner, flanked by Lt. Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti and Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady, made it clear that he is willing to work with both sides of the aisle to bring the state’s 12-month spending in line with annual state revenue.
“Recognizing that Illinois wage earners are taxed out, we are open to any approach that will help resolve the state’s precarious financial condition provided tax increases are not part of the plan,” he said. “We’ve already gone down that path, and it doesn’t work.”
Brady agreed. “We must avoid the mistakes of the past,” he said. “The Governor has presented a balanced budget proposal. It’s a start, and we are open to working on other budget proposals as long as they don’t include another tax increase on the backs of Illinois families and is balanced.”
House Republican Leader Jim Durkin added, "It is our constitutional duty as members of the General Assembly to come up with a revenue estimate as we begin the budgeting process. Without this, we will continue to spend outside our means which will result in more tax increases for Illinois taxpayers. This is unacceptable and we must do better."
Rauner cited the state’s dismal economic performance and unprecedented outmigration of businesses and income producers as evidence that the status quo is not an acceptable solution. He said that the template for growth in jobs and personal income exists in the states on Illinois borders.
“Low taxes, business friendly economic policies, and constraints on the growth of government spending are their competitive advantages,” he said. “It is time for Illinois lawmakers to take notice and pass legislation that gets us back in the game. The people of Illinois deserve a better economic shake.”
Public safety strategy
Along with his balanced budget, tax reduction, and economic development priorities, the Governor highlighted the need for a comprehensive public safety strategy to ensure the security of all Illinois citizens. He noted that a bipartisan legislative working group met at his urging last week to begin discussions on critical issues of school safety, gun trafficking, mental health and crime prevention.
“Keeping people safe is a mission we can all agree on,” he said. “Based on reports from the first working group meeting, I am optimistic that we can agree on a set of responses to many of the core concerns and root causes of violence in our state.”
Rauner also wants to see legislative action on the opioid epidemic. He and Sanguinetti, who leads the Governor’s Opioid Task Force, want the General Assembly to pass legislation to enhance the state’s war against the proliferation of opioids and opioid addictions and deaths.
“Opioid abuse is causing thousands of deaths in Illinois each year and costing us millions of dollars in healthcare and emergency services,” said Sanguinetti. “We’re focused on saving lives, but we need legislation so we can responsibly limit opioid prescriptions, restrict access to addictive drugs, and address treatment protocols.”
House Republican Leader Jim Durkin is supportive. “The legislature must continue to be tough on crime but smart on crime as well,” Durkin said. “Opioid abuse is a national health crisis. It affects every region and demographic in our state. We must do our part in Illinois.”
Restoring public trust in government
Restoring trust is a top administration priority. “Term limits will help eliminate the corruption and abuses of power that tarnish state government,” Rauner said. “That’s why we intend to introduce term limit legislation again. It is what a vast majority of people want, and it is time for legislators to put it on the ballot and let voters decide.
“Our Administration has begun the work of rooting out corruption in state government, but there is still plenty of work to be done,” the Governor said.
Senate Republican Leader Brady has sponsored legislation calling for an independent legislative inspector general to deal with sexual harassment and hostile workplace issues affecting the General Assembly.
Similar bills have been introduced in the House with the support of House Leader Durkin. In addition, Durkin filed legislation to create a sexual harassment hotline for all Illinois residents to provide victims with the necessary tools to safely and proactively report instances of harassment in the workplace.
Rauner and the Republican leaders will introduce additional legislative measures this week to address budget, tax reduction and other reforms.