By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
Ever listen to the disparate voices surrounding you in a restaurant? Snippets of conversation are all around, but you can never quite tell what any one person is saying.
Politics are a lot like that. Everyone talking, no one listening. And nowhere have those unintelligible conversations challenged us quite like they have in Illinois government, where the cure for the common cold seems more likely than a solution to our financial mayhem.
Enter a new conversationalist from stage far right: new Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. I don’t know if things are changing but he’s certainly got our ear.
“We need fundamental structural change and raising taxes alone … isn’t going to fix the problem, and in a lot of ways it’s going to make it worse,’’ he said of Illinois’ spending plight, which includes the nation’s worst unfunded pension hole and a $2 billion budget deficit, among other things.
His lecturing ways are getting the attention of legislators, some of whom don’t like what they’re hearing.
“(He’s) going to have to learn about state government,’’ snorted Senate President John Cullerton, a Democrat, after Rauner ripped into legislative shortcomings during one of his first speeches.
Businessmen of any tenure know you don’t have to necessarily be liked to get the job done. But businessmen also know that a happy workforce is a productive one. And that’s where our new governor will run aground if he doesn’t tread carefully during these next few months. Virtually everyone in state government is going to have to buy into solutions to get this state back in order.
Expect tough sailing, if you go by reactions so far. From a spending perspective, unions and Democrats largely don’t like the idea of sacrifice. Republicans and the average voter do.
His State of the State speech on Feb. 4 gave us a preview of what we’re in for, and he seems bent on reining in the largesse. But I’m most interested in taking a look at his first budget, which is due Feb. 18. That’s where we’ll learn just how much he proposes to cut and how he plans to pay for the rest.
Rauner’s background as a venture capitalist is far different than most legislators, many of whom come from legal and political trappings. He’s been professionally successful beyond most people’s dreams.
But business acumen doesn’t always translate in government, where the deftest of touches is needed to navigate the ship of state through the treacherous shoals of politics. Rauner came out barking executive orders to the crew in his first two weeks of office. It will be interesting to see if the crew tries to revolt.
And, just as he was appealing to the everyman in his audience, he pulls a political clinker, signing off on a $100,000 a year salary for a chief of staff for his wife. He said he’s willing to pay to get the right talent to fix Illinois problems.
But a chief of staff for … his wife? Mine would love such a perk. That thinking has no place in an administration bent on spending less money.
I would suggest it’s going to take as many years to fix Illinois’ problems as it did to get us into this mess, which is probably about three terms in office. Whether Bruce Rauner is here for all three largely depends on what he does with his first.
Dennis Grubaugh is editor and partner of the Illinois Business Journal.