By ALAN J. ORTBALS
In a J.B. Pritzker campaign ad, a former member of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s transition team, speaking of the last four years, says that when we look back 30 years from now, there will just be a gap in the timeline that says, disaster. Actually, it won’t take 30 years or 30 months or even 30 days for that matter. It’s clear right now how devastating this governor has been on this state. We cannot afford four more years.
I didn’t vote for Rauner but I expected better. I was hopeful that the non-politician would take a non-political, nonideological, objective look at the state’s fiscal situation and craft a pragmatic plan to right the fiscal ship. Instead, he offered dogmatic drivel and shell game antics designed to make the state’s ledger look better while handing the bill to local governments, higher ed and health care providers.
Upon his election, Rauner unilaterally drafted a legislative wish list he called his “Turnaround Agenda” 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 Dem’s 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. Things like term limits and right to work. In what universe does that sound like a realistic deal?
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 Dem’s wanted. Madigan and 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 have gotten 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. If he had taken this approach, he may well have righted the ship and put the state in a position to prosper in the future. What a record that would have been to run on!
Having lost in his initial, misguided approach, he then decided to get cute. Despite the fact that the state constitution required him to present a balanced budget to the legislature, which would have required a tax increase, he filled the gap with nearly $5 billion in “savings” that was supposed to be derived from “working together on a grand bargain” a gambit that earned him a “pants on fire” rating from Politifact. In addition, he shifted state costs to our universities and local governments as if that made them go away. This stupid ploy led to two years without a budget and drove Illinois into its own recession from which we are trying to recover.
No, Mike Madigan is not guiltless in this fiasco but Rauner gets the majority of the blame because he had the opportunity to succeed and squandered it through his own ineptitude and disingenuousness.
Our alternative in this election is Democrat J.B. Pritzker. The knock on him is that he’ll be an acolyte of House Speaker Mike Madigan. I don’t buy it. Madigan’s power derives from money. He controls a huge campaign war chest and he uses it to support friends and oppose foes. He can also cut off the spigots of campaign contributions from reliable Democrat donors. But Pritzker is a billionaire. Unlike previous governors like Quinn and Blagojevich, Madigan’s money doesn’t matter to him. He doesn’t need it. That emasculates Madigan and allows Pritzker to be independent.
Pritzker, Madigan and Cullerton agree on most issues so, if Pritzker is elected, I expect cohesion and progress instead of standoffs and stagnation. That would be nice for a change. We have a lot of work to do to get Illinois on the right track. We can’t get there by re-electing Bruce Rauner.
Alan J. Ortbals is president and publisher of the Illinois Business Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (618) 659-1997.
By ALAN J. ORTBALS