By ALAN J. ORTBALS
As I write this, Illinois government has log-jammed on the shoals of politics and I don’t see how it will be broken loose. Gov. Bruce Rauner badly misread the situation and should have taken a very different course. If he had, I don’t think we’d be in this position today.
Illinois’ fiscal plight was well known last November and I think it is fair to say that Rauner was elected because of his business skills and non-political background to chart a course to solvency.
His mistake was in assuming that Democrats like taxes. The fact is that no one likes taxes and politicians are loath to vote for them. They know that if they do, they’ll get an earful from their friends, their neighbors, their family and their constituents. And, they’ll have painted a big, bright bull’s-eye on their chest for their opponent in the next election.
Rauner’s turnaround agenda contained no tax increase. He unilaterally drafted a legislative wish list and took it on the road. As he traveled the state, he made vague references to his willingness to go along with some type of tax increase if the legislature would pass his agenda items. He should have realized that the legislature would have already passed a tax increase if they were willing to do so and take the blame. They were not.
In return for letting the Dems take the lead on — and take the heat for — enacting a tax increase, he wanted them to pass a laundry list of items that are anathema to them and their base.
– Worker’s compensation revisions;
– Tort reform;
– Right to work;
– Repeal the Illinois Prevailing Wage Act;
– Prohibit Project Labor Agreements;
– Limit rights of public employee unions;
– Enact term limits;
– Ban the collection of fair share dues for those who elect not to join the union.
Now you may agree with some are all of these proposals but that’s not the point. And, yes, House Speaker Mike Madigan bears a great deal of the blame for the fix we’re in, but that isn’t the point either. The point is that we are in a very serious fiscal crisis and Rauner made matters worse.
Here’s what he should have done. Before he announced his agenda, he should have met with the legislative leadership. He should have told them that he was against a tax increase but he was willing to not only go along with it, but propose it as part of his turnaround plan, reducing spending cuts on programs the Dems want. Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton could keep their constituents happy on the spending side and Rauner would take the blame for raising taxes. But, he wanted something in return — his turnaround agenda items. He wouldn’t get them all but I’ll bet he could have gotten some of them. Then he could have hit the road, selling his plan to the voters, sewing up his votes in Springfield by building public support for it across the state.
The legislators could then acquiesce to the governor and the electorate and, “do what’s right for Illinois.”
If Rauner had taken this approach instead of trying to back the Dems into a corner, force them to initiate a tax increase on their own, and shove a bunch of unpalatable legislation down their throats, he could have righted our fiscal ship and may well have gotten some of the things on his wish list. Instead, he’s deadlocked the budget process, expanded his roster of enemies and plummeted his approval rating to just 35 percent.
Negotiating a deal with the legislature up front would have been smart politics but it’s too late for that now. Now he’s painted both himself and the legislature into a corner and I don’t see a way out. Maybe electing a non-politician wasn’t such a good idea after all.
Alan J. Ortbals is president and publisher of the Illinois Business Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (618) 659-1977.
By ALAN J. ORTBALS