Governor Bruce Rauner began his annual State of the State address by saying it would focus on the places where he and legislators agree, but there are still clear areas of disagreement as well.
One area of agreement was on the emerging issue of sexual harassment, coming after powerful Democratic Rep. Ira Silverstein was recently cleared of sexual harassment allegations from a female lobbyist.
“Today, I will sign an executive order to strengthen the policies that ensure all government employees under my office’s jurisdiction have reliable and responsive outlets for reporting acts of sexual misconduct. The order makes the Ethics Act supreme over all other laws and agreements in the state, even those in collective bargaining agreements … Further, we will introduce legislation this session to make the Ethics Act the prevailing law of the state in all matters involving misconduct.”
Rauner also criticized the state’s much maligned property tax system. “No one in Illinois is happy with our property tax assessment system,” he said to nodding heads. “Home values in some parts of our state are half what they were 10 years ago, yet property taxes are twice as high. Small businesses often have to cut staff to pay their taxes. Elderly couples on fixed incomes are too often pushed out of their homes because they cannot afford their property taxes.”
“Two weeks ago, we issued an executive order that prevents legislators from practicing before the state property tax appeal board. And today Sen. Oberweis and Rep. Wehrli will introduce legislation that asks you to apply this same reform to every legislator who might practice before an assessment appeal board anywhere in the state. And once again, we will ask you to pass legislation that brings true property tax relief, giving people the ability to lower their property taxes through a simple voter referendum.”
Finally, the governor celebrated an increase in education funding by $1.2 billion this year and a more equitable funding formula, and also a state tuition scholarship program he negotiated with Democrats in the legislature which allows children of low income families to attend private schools.
As for other reforms, the governor touted criminal justice reforms including a 15% reduction in the state’s prison population. He says his administration has slashed fees to small businesses by 70%, and he also noted the state now has 19 new labor agreements in place to pay state government employees “based upon 40-hour work weeks, rather than 37 ½ hours, and pay on merit and productivity, not just seniority.”
As for possible conflicts, the governor previewed what is likely to become another budget fight by saying he will submit a balanced budget proposal by the end of the month, an announcement which received a standing ovation from Republican lawmakers. He says his budget “… will offer a path to reduced spending, and it will show the way to surpluses going forward so we can reduce taxes and start to push back against the assault on middle class bank accounts.”
He also renewed his call for term limits and the reform of pension costs he says will go up $600 million this year alone and cannot be sustained.
A full recap with reaction tonight on ‘Eyewitness News’ at 5 and 6pm and on mystateline.com.