SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – One year ago, Bruce Rauner was sworn in as Illinois’ first Republican governor in over a decade. The private equity investor turned politician spent more than $27 million of his own fortune to get a spot in the governor’s mansion. He rode into Springfield with one mission: shake things up.
The key to change: Rauner’s so-called turnaround agenda. The pro-business, union-weakening plan was supposed to trigger economic growth but instead set the stage for a political showdown the likes of which Illinois has never seen.
Term limits, redistricting reform, permanent property tax relief: Governor Rauner aimed high but ultimately hit a wall, in the form of all-powerful Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan.
Rauner remains stuck in a stalemate with the Democratic-controlled legislature over his plan that would take power away from Madigan and his biggest backers: unions.
The governor says he’s not anti-union, but at the core of even the simplest agenda item – a property tax freeze – is a democratic poison pill: stripping state employee unions of some collective bargaining rights.
Rauner vetoed Madigan’s budget plan and seven months later, we’re still without a state spending plan. Rauner refuses to negotiate new revenue until lawmakers pass his agenda – and that’s something Democrats say they won’t do.
After promising to get the state’s fiscal house in order, Governor Rauner will end his first year in office with a bill backlog of more than $6.5 billion.
The realities of political office also put a strain on Rauner’s well-documented relationship with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The pair chose partisanship, over friendship. The rift has left Chicago Public Schools without help from Springfield and on the verge of financial breakdown.
The year hasn’t been without accomplishment Rauner spent much of his first days in office undoing executive orders by predecessor Pat Quinn and ordering a freeze of non-essential government spending.
In the midst of the budget battle, Rauner managed to peel off support from Democratic state Rep. Ken Dunkin, the nail in the coffin for a proposal to reverse Rauner’s cuts to childcare.
His right-to-work proposal got support from a suburban city council, and he reached contract agreements with several, not all, state employee unions. He even put the crumbling Thompson Center up for sale.
Governor Rauner could be in for an equally challenging second year. There’s still pension reform to contend with, and all parties agree: the budget impasse isn’t likely to end before state lawmakers make it through their primary elections in March.
Governor Rauner already has more than $20 million on hand to help push his agenda, and his candidates, in the new year.
But Speaker Madigan has at least $10 million to spend.