On Wednesday, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner tried to set the tone for the upcoming legislative session in his State of the State address. Gone were many of the points from his failed Turnaround Agenda and he sought to strike a more conciliatory tone while calling for bipartisan cooperation.
So far, so good governor.
But the real meat still lies ahead when he delivers his budget address to the legislature on Feb. 14. None of what he said Wednesday matters if they can't come together and approve a two-year budget. There are no political points to be made by another protracted budget stalemate. If he really wants to make some bipartisan progress, he needs to prove that in his upcoming budget address. We need to hear how they will achieve a balanced budget while he still pushes for cutting taxes. All should agree that is the No. 1 priority.
We’re still skeptical that the governor is committed to that path. So are many others, including legislators, and it is an election year when neither side will be eager to offer the other any kind of victory.
A deeply ingrained distrust provided the subtext to Wednesday's speech. In one breath the governor was calling for bipartisan cooperation to put in place the policies, the changes, the fiscal discipline needed to recruit more Amazons. “United, we can create thousands and thousands of jobs, attract billions of dollars in investment and set millions of Illinoisans free to make more, buy more, build more," he said.
He followed that up by poking Speaker Michael Madigan in the eye -- all but calling him a crook and promising legislation that would prevent lawmakers from arguing cases before the state property tax appeals board, a key business of Speaker Madigan’s law firm.
The governor again included a call for term limits -- a direct assault to get the long-serving Speaker out of office. A better approach would have been a continued push for a Fair Map Amendment where term limits are left in the hands of the voters. Currently we have a partisan system in which the party in power draws the map for legislative districts for the next 10 years -- assuring it keeps that power. The courts have blocked a citizen-based effort at an amendment, but the legislature could approve one jointly.
The governor's speech was also interesting for what it didn't contain: chiefly, a call for a major statewide capital bill that would create jobs and the infrastructure Illinois needs to attract those Amazon-like headquarters the governor talked about. Surely, that's one area where agreement could be found -- provided the two sides could agree on a list of projects and how to pay for them.
Perhaps Gov. Rauner is holding that back until he introduces what he promises will be a balanced budget. But a statewide capital bill would be Priority 2.
So governor, you got our attention with you State of the State address. Now it’s time to deliver on a two-year budget, a statewide capital bill and real progress on a Independent Map Amendment.