In his second State of the State as governor, Bruce Rauner doubled down on his Turnaround Agenda, again reaffirming his commitment to his pro-business, competitive strategy for the state while offering vague education reforms that didn’t include any specific solutions to help Chicago Public Schools and its projected one billion dollar deficit for 2020.
“Change is hard. Reform is difficult, but we can’t just raise taxes again,” Gov. Rauner said during his roughly 30 minute speech as he again called for local control as a way to freeze local property taxes and strip collective bargaining rights for unions. “Let’s give local control now, so homeowners can afford their houses and our communities can compete for jobs with neighboring states that have far lower property tax burdens,” he urged.
On the union issue, he was particularly peeved with AFSCME, the state’s largest public sector union, dedicating a page of his speech calling their demands “out of touch with reality,” and its members overpaid and their overtime-pay purposefully “manipulated.”
Offering a “first step toward bipartisan compromise,” Gov. Rauner affirmed his support for Senate President John Cullerton’s pension plan that would save the state $1 billion by giving state employees a choice over cost-of-living increases to their retirement benefits. He said his lawyers will work with Cullerton’s staff to, “finalize the language as soon as possible.”
He concluded the speech with a ten-point plan for education reform, which he described as “bold and transformative,” and includes long-term goals to increase school choice and funding for low-income and rural students, cut administrative costs at state-run universities and city colleges, and “flexibility” for local school districts when it comes to collective bargaining and issuing contracts. Senate President Cullerton and other Democrats in the state legislature have been calling for reforms to the state’s school funding formula for years.
In a statement released hours after the governor’s speech, the Chicago Teacher’s Union called the governor’s education proposals the “clearest evidence of his continued support for the status quo.” The union took particular issue with the governor’s call to give local school districts more flexibility, claiming that local control is what led Mayor Emanuel and the Chicago Board of Education “to go broke on purpose.”