Tags: Illinois | governor Rauner | labor | unions | budget | deficit | constitution

Illinois Gov. Takes Aim at Labor Unions in 'Divisive' Agenda

Image: Illinois Gov. Takes Aim at Labor Unions in 'Divisive' Agenda
Gov.Bruce Rauner, R-Ill. (John Gress/Getty Images)

Wednesday, 04 Feb 2015 03:24 PM

Illinois Gov.Bruce Rauner laid out on Wednesday an ambitious and controversial agenda that includes constitutional fixes for the state's public pension system and budget.

In his inaugural state of the state address, Rauner, who holds political office for the first time, also took aim at public labor unions.

"It's make or break time for the Land of Lincoln," Rauner told state lawmakers.

Illinois has a chronic structural budget deficit, as well as the lowest credit ratings and the worst-funded pension system among the 50 states. The fiscal crisis is the worst the state has seen for decades, according to budget experts.

State pension payments are squeezing spending on essential state services. A 2013 law aimed at easing a $105 billion unfunded liability is being challenged in court by unions and others.

Rauner's policy agenda calls for "permanent pension relief" by amending the Illinois constitution, which prohibits the impairment or diminishment of public worker retirement benefits.

The Republican governor also wants to change the constitution to prohibit the carryover of unpaid bills between fiscal years, a practice that has fed Illinois' structural deficit.

Rauner called for banning political donations by unions representing government workers. He repeated a campaign pledge to create local "empowerment zones" in which workers would have a right to work, even if their employer has a collective bargaining agreement with workers.

And he proposed that Illinois give employees of local governments the right to work even in communities where government workers are represented by unions.

"Local communities, local voters, deserve this option so that they can compete with other states and other nations for new businesses and new investment," he said in his speech.

Rauner's proposals will face a battle in the Democratic-controlled state General Assembly. In a post state of the state-speech interview with public television, House Speaker Michael Madigan signaled a fight was brewing over Rauner's labor initiatives.

"I think what we ought to do is understand that organized labor represents working people," Madigan said. "For myself, I'm very interested in helping working people. I'm sure that almost every member of the Legislature shares that view."

Senate President John Cullerton, who is a Chicago Democrat like Madigan, said in a statement the new governor "has a lot to learn if he is to build on our successes in Medicaid reform, workers compensation, pension reform, cutting the bill backlog and meeting our obligations."

"The people of this state elected a divided government, but the governor will soon learn that it doesn't mean that he needs to be divisive." Cullerton said.

Despite the fact Illinois is facing big budget shortfalls in its current and upcoming budgets, Rauner called for higher funding for public school districts, particularly in disadvantaged areas of the state, while also expanding public charter schools to give parents choices.

The governor, who took office on Jan. 12 and is due to release his fiscal 2016 budget plan on Feb. 18, did not disclose where that money would come from. He reiterated campaign initiatives that called for extending the Illinois sales tax to some services and freezing local property taxes for two years.

His policy agenda included seeking a state law providing bankruptcy protections to municipalities and launching an effort to reduce the number of governmental units in Illinois, which has nearly 7,000, the most among all the states.

© 2017 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

   
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Illinois Gov.Bruce Rauner laid out on Wednesday an ambitious and controversial agenda that includes constitutional fixes for the state's public pension system and budget.
Illinois, governor Rauner, labor, unions, budget, deficit, constitution
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2015-24-04
Wednesday, 04 Feb 2015 03:24 PM
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