By DENNIS GRUBAUGH, The Illinois Business Journal
O’FALLON — Gov. Bruce Rauner defended his agenda and urged local leaders to get behind it during a lengthy trip through Southwestern Illinois on Monday.
During a 20-minute press briefing he took questions and stood his ground on topics ranging from the amounts of money being paid to certain members of his administration to his plan to cut taxes to cash-strapped communities throughout the state in an attempt to balance the budget.
The remarks came at an O’Fallon hotel complex, as the Republican was about to enter a closed-door speech before the Leadership Council of Southwestern Illinois, a group of area business advocates with whom he is courting support as he attempts to reform state government.
Earlier in the day, he met with Boeing executives and toured their manufacturing operation at MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Mascoutah. He also toured the grounds of the airport and neighboring Scott Air Force Base to talk about development opportunities at each. MidAmerica is one of three finalists for relocation of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in St. Louis which has more than 3,000 jobs and will decide in the coming year on a new home. He said is getting firmly behind that relocation.
Some of the highlights of the press briefing:
About high-pay salaries for some members of his administration, most notably the $250,000 being paid to secretary of education Beth Purvis: “Illinois has lost its way. You could see the results with Gov. Quinn’s team. We’ve got some of the most talented people in America in this administration — superstars. If you want a talented leader who can transform government, those folks are highly compensated. You have to ask them to take pay cuts over what they could be making in the outside private sector.
“We are going to have fewer, more talented people and the overall administrative cost will be lower than Pat Quinn’s. We’re going to drive better results where we save taxpayers money.
“Beth Purvis is going to transform educational and vocational training in Illinois, and we need her badly.”
“It’s not how much we pay the most talented leaders, it’s how much we pay the average employee inside state government. And here’s a hard-core truth: The average employee makes anywhere from 30 percent to 50 percent more than the typical government worker in the states around us. And when you include their pension and health benefits, they make about 22 percent more than the same job they would have in the private sector. We’ve got to change that.”
Regarding his suggestion that Illinois have right to work empowerment zones, allowing various communities to decide by vote if they want to honor collective bargaining with unions: “We do not need to be a right to work state. I do not support (that). However, we need to get Illinois on the list. There are a lot of companies looking to move or expand to business-flexible states. But Illinois is not on the list. We need a few counties, or even as few communities, to decide to become employment flexible areas. That’s allowed under federal labor law if the state authorizes it. Let’s let the local voters decide that. If they want it, great, if not, that’s OK. But with it I can go to firms wanting to move to Illinois. Today, we’re losing companies to Illinois, Iowa, Texas — the ultimate flexible state. Over in Missouri there is a right to work bill pending in the legislature that might pass soon. We need to compete.
“That’s the way this is done in federal government. They restrict what gets collectively bargained — and 29 states do, too.”
Rauner summed up various components of his agenda by saying he is focused on turning Illinois economy around. “We’ve got to grow our way out of our challenges. We cannot cut our way out of our challenges. We cannot tax our way out of our challenges. We’ve got to grow.
“That means changing the regulatory climate in Illinois, changing workers compensation, it’s too costly and uncompetitive. Changing the unemployment structure in Illinois: It’s too costly.”
Asked if there was any way he would accept new taxes as part of the solution, he said he hasn’t ruled out anything.
A temporary state income tax rate was allowed to expire at year’s end under Quinn’s administration, which represented a drastic cut in state revenue.