Illinois state government is wearing me out. I find it hard to keep up. Here’s news from the beginning of June.
Illinois’ Governor Bruce Rauner came to my hometown the first Monday in June. He was to speak at city hall at 1:30. After swimming laps at the YMCA I got the Number #6 sandwich at Jimmy John’s drive through (the veggie) for $5.
“Any chips, pickles, cookies or drinks with that?” They try to sell me the same four items every time, in that exact same order, to which I reply every time;
“No just the sandwich.” I guess we’re both scripted.
While eating I guided the Buick towards Ottawa City Hall. There was a big gathering of people there, which I recognized instantly as the Union crowd. I parked a block away and walked up. Rocky Raikes greeted me, former BA for the Laborer’s Union and chairman of the Democratic Party. Kevin Frances came walking up as I did, teacher at Ottawa High School and a union member who endured a nasty strike not many years ago. Gary Grabowski was there, retired member of the Carpenter’s Union and renowned good guy. Rick Scott, one of Ottawa’s retired fire chiefs and current county board member, Heather Reardon another teacher now retired who was and apparently is still active in the teacher’s union, Helen Jo, a secretary at DCFS and part of AFSCME, John Knudson former mayor of Marseilles. YSB staff showed up in force-Kelly Rinker, Jami Valenzuela, Julie Cullinan, Denise (used to be) Rick, and new workers I don’t know. They don’t belong to a union but their employer, YSB, is one of those not for profit social service agencies that has signed contracts for services they have provided but not been paid for in nearly a year. I could go on dropping names but in short the crowd was made up of my friends and neighbors. I’m not good at estimating numbers in crowds but let’s say 200 people showed.
Friday we learned that Ottawa’s Mayor had agreed to host Governor Rauner for a press conference at City Hall on school funding which was to be attended by school superintendents. I planned to attend to hear what the governor had to say. There I was at City Hall, but they were not letting us in the building. As people in suits began leaving, filing past us silently down the sidewalk, not responding to the simple question “where are you going?” we realized the venue was being changed, we were not a welcome audience, and because of that we were clumsily being given the slip. Social media being what it is someone tweeted us the new location and we walked all of a block through the alley by Berta’s and past Bianchi’s to our old downtown LaSalle County courthouse. There we covered both the North and South entrances. Unlike City Hall the courthouse has metal detectors and security guys at the entrances. It was apparent we weren’t getting in there either.
But the governor had not yet arrived so there was opportunity to do a little hectoring and sign waving upon his arrival which happened. But we were fooled some. The entourage of big black SUV’s met by Ottawa policeman pulled up to a little used side entrance covered by chain link at the bottom of old iron fire escape stairs. I’d never seen it used. But sure enough someone from inside opened a chain link gate for Bruce Rauner and his people. And there he was, walking across the street from Senate Billiards and disappearing into the courthouse with no hat. He’s pretty tall. Skinny too.
Our hard working and nimble Ottawa radio station WCMY 1430 scrambled, moved their equipment, got their reporter to the new site, played his remarks live on air and stored them on website. You can hear the whole thing here by holding Control and clicking.
After the governor got into the court house and it was clear the demonstrators, including me, were shut out I walked to my car and listened on the radio as I drove back home, hearing the last of his short speech in my garage. I prefer reading transcripts of these things because I like written words better than those that hang in the air. I think writing lasts longer and has more impact. But that’s just me. How he got to Ottawa, where he spoke, and the bad things the protestors were able to yell at him in the seconds he walked from his car into and out of the courthouse are much less important than what he said. So I’m going focus on the words our governor chose for Ottawa to hear. The only thing that speaks louder than words are actions, and so far there has been so little action in Springfield we only have words to go on.
For one thing, he said “supermajority Democrats” 14 times before I lost count. Every time he said Democrat he said supermajority. I was keeping hash marks on a yellow tablet, you know four marks crossed by a fifth, and I’m not certain I got them all. Often he said “Speaker Madigan and the supermajority Democrats.” He went on to call the Speaker Madigan and his supermajority democrats “total, utter, complete failures” which is a tad redundant but hey it’s his speech.
Interestingly enough he did not call our local state representative, Andy Skoog, appointed to serve the remainder of Frank Mautino’s term, by name. He talked about him this way;
“You have a representative here, right here in the Illinois Valley, that is part of the Democrat supermajority and you need to talk to him and tell him to vote for you and not the City of Chicago. It’s not fair, ladies and gentlemen, for your tax dollars to be used to bail out Chicago. It’s not fair to YOU.“
He said that or something like it at least seven times, and neither did he mention by name Skoog’s Republican opponent, tea party truck driver Jerry Long, who nearly beat Frank Mautino in his last election. I have a feeling that contest is the main reason the Governor was in our fair city that Monday afternoon. Andy Skoog’s seat is targeted by the Republicans, one of a handful the Republicans are trying to win back to erase the “supermajority.” Super.
The Chicago slur, the reference to bailing them out, taps a downstate sentiment fairly easy to exploit. Chicago is that evil place, the black hole of tax dollars, and its government-oh my God. Let me use Rauner’s words to describe Chicago government.
“Ladies and gentlemen Chicago government is deplorable. The corruption, cronyism, and self dealing that benefit the Chicago machine and the supermajority Democrats is unbelievable. Unbelievable.” He says things twice for dramatic effect. That’s a pretty easy sell downstate, akin to a soft target, bashing Chicago. Bashing Chicago.
The meeting was billed as a discussion about public education with school boards and superintendents. Those people were allowed to sit in the chairs in the courthouse. As it turns out they were more or less foils for a campaign speech. There wasn’t a heck of a lot of school talk or discussion taking place. Not all the superintendents attended. Maybe they could see it coming.
Regarding education Rauner decried “patronage, cronyism, and waste” in the Chicago Public School (CPS) system and adamantly opposed, promising to veto, any legislation they might pass which gives CPS more money than they had last year. While he didn’t go into it that day Rauner’s Plan A is for CPS to force it into bankruptcy, shed its commitments to the teacher’s union, completely reorganize and save money. School starts in August. That’s a pretty tall order for the next two months. I’ve not heard a Plan B. Have you?
I started counting the number of times he dropped the -g from -ing and literally could not make the marks fast enough. I gave out at 22. He’s folksy, this rich new governor. He also says “gol darn”, that euphemism used by old timey devout Christians to avoid takin’ the Lord’s name in vain by sayin’ god damn. It’s cute in a way, or might be cute if it wasn’t life or death for private agencies and public schools. While listening to him it seemed like he just couldn’t resist. He even mentioned his Grandpa, a dairy farmer who lived in a double wide trailer. Neither he or his Grandpa came from money, Bruce Rauner said. He worked hard for every penny he’s earned, and he is proud of it.
“And gol darn it I’m a volunteer. I’m not takin’ a salary. I’m doin’ this to give back. I’m tryin’ to make Illinois prosperous so we can afford the things we want and deserve in this state.”
The Governor specifically pushed two emergency bills, introduced by the Republicans, one to run essential state services up till the November elections and the other to open the schools on time this fall. He needs that legislation because the budget passed by the Democrat supermajority does not allow him to sign portions of the budget, which is typically passed as a package of separate appropriation bills. I’d not heard it put that way. You learn something every day if you pay attention.
“This budget is integrated into a knot and you can’t separate it,” he explained. “So you need to talk to your representative, right here in the Illinois Valley, and urge him to vote against Speaker Madigan and the supermajority Democrats and vote for YOU, not the City of Chicago.”
He was asked about the situation in Streator, one of our major towns in the Illinois Valley, where the elementary district, which has been running on tax anticipation warrants for the last two years and is desperate for money, is considering scheduling school four days a week to try to make it on their local property tax dollars and state aid. He reported being very familiar with Streator, called it “a tragedy” and said that it was typical of many school districts in Illinois where the tax base is eroding. He claimed Streator would get A LOT MORE MONEY under his emergency bill which takes school districts back to the foundation level established in 2004 before the state began prorating the payments. He didn’t know how much though. An aide came to his rescue and said $6,119 per student. I asked one of my school administrator friends where Streator currently is in relation to that funding level and he simply said “that was twelve years ago. It’s pretty hard to keep track of where you are.”
Either a union person infiltrated the hand picked audience or a school person raised this question but it was probably the most interesting. He (or she, it was hard to hear the questions) asked the Governor where he stood in regard to Right to Work laws. The Governor reacted fairly strongly.
“You know people say I’m anti union and I’m not. If you want to be in a union fine, go for it. If you don’t want to be in a union that’s should be all right too.”
(I so would have wanted to ask him about “AF-SCAMMY”, his derogatory term for the public employees union AFSCME, in response to his sudden purported union neutrality stance.)
But back to the Governor's Right to Work response; it’s a head scratcher because what he described pretty much defines Right to Work as a concept. Yet he went on.
“There is no Right to Work in our agenda. Zero. Doesn’t exist. That’s a fact. Right to work is in none of our bills. I’m not pushing Right to Work at all.”
The person posing the questions reacted incredulously, as would the 200 angry union members outside have reacted, saying something to which the Governor said.
“It’s spin. All spin. Welcome to my world.”
He said some other things that should be noted. While railing against the Democrat supermajority’s budget passed with a clearly evident $7 Billion deficit the Governor claimed the budget he presented earlier this spring was balanced. That’s not accurate. The Civic Federation, in a report released Tuesday, estimates Rauner’s budget had an operating deficit of $3.5 Billion. It does not fully account for the actual cost of essential state services and is based on projected savings that are unlikely to be realized. Granted his budget is not as bad as the budget bill passed by the Democrats which he vetoed, but it is still phony.
The Illinois constitution requires a balanced budget and so the legislature, with the governor often complicit, has in the past simply inflated revenue lines or obviously undershot expense lines in order to make it appear balanced. In the year that legislation was passed approving video computer gambling in taverns and restaurants the budget showed a giant dollar amount attributed to that activity. That despite the fact the software hadn’t been developed and the internet connections were not established. There was no way in hell that revenue could have been generated in the following 12 months. Yet there it was, in a phony balanced budget.
Both party’s budgets are phony because Illinois’ budget will not work without a tax increase. That’s been apparent for a year and a half. Let me say that again. The budget doesn’t work without a tax increase. Everybody knows that. Rauner admits he would support a tax increase, but not if it helps Chicago and its corrupt public schools. Oh no. Any budget he would sign must provide for items in his turn around agenda and it can’t help Chicago. No sir. At least that is what he said in early June in downstate Ottawa in our courthouse. Apparently our governor assumes us downstate folk are so provincial we wholeheartedly support him screwing the largest city in our state. We’ve let eighteen months go by without renewing a tax increase at a level that would have allowed us to pay our bills and provide services to Illinois’ most vulnerable citizens in the meantime. How deep are we going to dig this hole? How much longer do we make things worse?
What is Illinois without Chicago? Do you think perhaps some of Chicago’s tax revenue just might just creep past Route 80 to benefit us? Do you think it is in our best interest as citizens of Illinois to throw public education and the families it serves in Chicago under the bus? How dumb does he think we are? It is one thing for the populace to consider only the well being of your own community, but it is quite another and equally self defeating for the leader of the entire state to pit one region against another. I hate to hear the Governor, the state’s political leader, promoting and exploiting the city/downstate divide that so plagues Illinois.
On the other hand Speaker Madigan and the Democratic supermajority say next to nothing publicly. Bruce Rauner at least came to town and said things we could mull over. I haven’t seen Mike Madigan in town since perhaps the 1990’s when he was promoting judicial candidates. I don’t know where we’re going in Illinois, but I’m tired of words. I want something to happen. I want something to happen. I want something to happen.