Back on the trail, Rauner recycles campaign themes with Madigan attacks

2017-11-13 | Chicago Tribune

Nov. 14--Gov. Bruce Rauner hit the road Monday as he asks voters for a second term in office, recycling many of the same ideas he's long pushed with little success.

The Republican governor began his weeklong tour of Illinois at a manufacturing plant in Decatur, a familiar backdrop for a politician who argues many of the state's financial problems can be solved by cutting regulations on businesses so they can create more jobs.

While he's failed to gain much traction in an area he says is key to business growth -- curbing the cost of workers' compensation insurance for employees hurt on the job -- Rauner says he's not ready to give up. He identified other priorities that likewise aren't new, including freezing property taxes and giving voters the ability to reduce tax levies through ballot referendums, and enacting term limits on lawmakers through an amendment to the state constitution.

Rauner did add one new goal: rolling back the major income tax increase lawmakers put in place this summer as part of a larger deal to end the state's two-year budget impasse. While some Republicans joined Democrats to override Rauner's veto of the tax and budget plan, the governor put the blame squarely on political nemesis and longtime Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan.

"Mike Madigan and his legislators put in place a major income tax hike on you," Rauner told about a dozen workers following a tour at T/CCI Manufacturing, which produces heavy-duty compressors.

Rauner said he'd like to reduce the 4.95 percent personal income tax rate to 3 percent "over the next few years."

"There are many states that have no income tax. Now I haven't argued that we should go that far, though I am hoping for that, but there's no reason that we can't bring that income tax hike back down to 3 percent," Rauner said.

Asked how he would make up for the billions of dollars in lost revenue, Rauner said he would seek to cut costs related to the state's public employee pension system and health care program for the poor. Again, he pointed to Madigan as standing in the way of those efforts.

"We waste billions of dollars in pension costs, in Medicaid, in the size of our government bureaucracy, and if we worked together to shrink those costs, and I've recommended ways to do that, so far Speaker Madigan's lawmakers have not wanted to do pension reform, they've not wanted to help us on Medicaid reform, but we can do it if we get like-minded legislators in place," Rauner said.

The governor called on voters to ask those seeking office if they planned to support Madigan's re-election as speaker, a strategy Rauner first employed during legislative races in 2016. In the end, 66 of 67 Democratic members voted for Madigan to serve his 17th term as speaker.

"Don't vote for anyone who won't promise not to vote for Mike Madigan to be speaker again after 35 years," Rauner said. "We need fresh leadership and more ethical government."

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said the speaker "has been supportive of attempts to compromise" but noted earlier efforts to curb pension costs have been thrown out by the courts. Brown also asked if Rauner would spend money coming in from the tax increase given his opposition, before comparing Rauner to imprisoned former Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

"Those people who thought Gov. Blagojevich was the nutty governor, this guy is racing ahead of former Gov. Blagojevich," Brown said.

Though Rauner was able to chip away at Madigan's majority by picking up four seats in the House in 2016, he's had trouble keeping Republicans united. Divisions that first appeared over the budget deepened when Rauner signed legislation to expand taxpayer-funded abortion despite previously pledging to veto the bill.

That angered conservatives, leading some in his own party to label Rauner a "failed" governor. Rep. Jeanne Ives, a Republican from Wheaton, is pursuing a primary challenge.

Rauner shrugged off the criticism Monday, and said he is leading a movement that transcends political party.

"What we've got to do is united around what we can agree on," Rauner said. "That's how we'll get it done. Us coming together. This is a movement. This is really not about Democrats against Republicans. This is about the people of Illinois pushing back against a broken system."

mcgarcia@chicagotribune.com