SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Gov. Bruce Rauner is set to lay out his agenda for his first year in office, with a long-awaited speech expected to focus on ways to jump-start job creation and make fundamental changes to how state government works.
The Republican’s first State of the State address, scheduled for noon Wednesday before the General Assembly in Springfield, comes as some state agencies and programs already are running out of money this year and with Illinois facing an even greater budget gap next year.
While Rauner isn’t expected to outline specifics on the budget for another two weeks, those financial woes will be the basis for almost every policy he’s expected to promote Wednesday.
In a series of talks previewing his speech, he’s said Illinois can’t move forward until the state gets spending under control and the economy booming again.
“This is, I believe, the biggest turnaround in America today,” the multimillionaire former private equity investor told the audience at one of his recent talks. “It’s the biggest turnaround I’ve ever been associated with.”
Rauner, a first-time office holder, has said that turnaround will require steps to make the state more attractive to businesses, such as reducing the cost of workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance.
He’s also said the state spends too much on Medicaid and pensions, state worker salaries are too generous and that Illinois needs to reduce bureaucracy in education and eliminate some of its approximately 7,000 units of government. He is expected to repeat his calls for increasing funding for early childhood and K-12 education, despite the state’s predicament and without having said how he would pay for it.
In a move that angered organized labor, Rauner sent a memo to legislators on Monday asking for their help in altering rules for state workers. He indicated he supports eliminating public-worker unions’ right to collectively bargain over wages and benefits and to authorize a strike.
Unions have accused the multimillionaire governor of trying to vilify working people and have disputed his claims that state employees are paid too much.
Many of Rauner’s proposals are expected to be nonstarters in the Democratic-controlled Legislature, where even Illinois’ Democratic governors in recent years struggled to advance some of the plans they pitched in their State of the State addresses.
But the speech will provide a starting point for negotiations in a legislative session where government is divided for the first time in more than a decade.
Democrats have said they’re eagerly awaiting Rauner’s State of the State and the Feb. 18 budget address so they can respond to what he has to say. But they’ve also been strategically waiting for the GOP governor to play his cards, letting him be first to take the blame for any spending cuts, tax increases or other proposals that might incense voters.
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