When Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner was sworn into office one year ago, he said: “Each person here today and all those throughout the state will be called upon to share in the sacrifice so that one day we can again share in Illinois’ prosperity. We all must shake up our old ways of thinking.”
There was sacrifice in Rauner’s first year as governor, but it did not come from cutbacks and austerity – rather, from things breaking down. It was a year in which Rauner proved adept at disrupting the workings of state government, but not in working with the majority Democrats to pass meaningful legislation that would change the state’s direction.
Is our state better off one year into Rauner’s first term than when he took office? The answer is debatable and largely depends on how easy or difficult you expected it would be for Rauner to accomplish his goals. The hope is that through continued commitment to the reforms Rauner is pushing for, it will be.
Rauner, a Republican, promised to shake things up in Springfield. No more status quo. He was going to run Illinois like a business and turnaround our state, which continues to deal with unprecedented financial difficulties.
Year One for Rauner will be remembered for operating half the year without a state budget, which has led to increased spending through court orders and piecemeal funding, and a lot of pain for the state’s social service agencies, some of which have closed doors they say will not be reopened.
The impasse continues into Year Two.
Democratic leadership in Springfield, namely House Speaker Mike Madigan, passed a fiscal 2016 budget with a $4 billion deficit between expenses and revenue. Status quo in Illinois.
Rauner rejected the budget and the status quo, which he was elected to do.
Neither side has budged since then. Democrats want a combination of cuts and a tax increase to settle the budget deficit. Rauner is open to increasing taxes if he gets his suggested reforms, saying he won’t “put in a significant new tax and change nothing.”
Those reforms deal with reducing the cost of doing business in Illinois, limiting the power of unions and establishing term limits for lawmakers.
These are the kind of reforms voters elected Rauner to enact. By putting him into office, voters expressed a desire to change how business is conducted in Springfield.
To think change would come quickly or without pain, considering power in the General Assembly is held by Democrats Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, would not be a fair expectation.
As his title implies, however, it is Rauner’s responsibility to govern. In Year One under Rauner, Illinois has been more dysfunctional, not less.
In his first year, Rauner has made good on his promise to shake things up. In his second, he needs to show he also can work with the Legislature to create a new order that works for the people of Illinois.