As far back as his 2014 gubernatorial campaign, Gov. Bruce Rauner lamented his immediate predecessors’ habit of dropping by Springfield but living in Chicago, and treating the state’s largest city as the de facto state capital.
Then-candidate Rauner promised to live in the Governor’s Mansion, which he largely has, minus the time he spent living on the State Fairgrounds while the mansion was being renovated with funds donated by and raised by the governor and first lady Diana Rauner.
Rauner criticized the amount of money the state was spending on travel for both Governors Pat Quinn and Rod Blagojevich, both Democrats, and said he’d like to bring more state jobs back to Springfield. On Thursday, three-and-a-half years into his term in office, Rauner got his wish — sort of.
Flanked by a few local legislators and other area officials, Rauner signed HB 4295, which will require the Department of Central Management Services to default state agency jobs as located in Sangamon County, where Springfield is the county seat, unless it can be proven the jobs need to be elsewhere within the state.
The law will not force any current state employees to relocate to Springfield, but also does not provide guidelines for how a job can be moved from Springfield to somewhere else within the state.
Bill sponsor State Rep. Sara Wojcicki Jimenez (R-Springfield) cited a 2016 study that found in-state travel by state agency employees had cost the state $126 million over a five-year period. The report found that nearly 400 state agency jobs currently located outside of Springfield could come back to Sangamon County, which Wojcicki Jimenez said could be a boon to the local economy.
“Ever since I became a representative and growing up in Springfield as a journalist, there’s been a lot of concern among people who live in Sangamon County about where the state capital actually is,” Wojcicki Jimenez said.
The bill, which passed unanimously in the state Senate and overwhelmingly in the House, will also help the state prepare for the much-vaunted sale of the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago, which has been a priority for Rauner for the last few years. The state’s current budget relies on savings from the sale, but not much progress has been made on the issue.
“This is the state capital by law, by tradition, by history and by pride,” Rauner said Thursday. We should make sure that our government is run in a way that’s good for taxpayers and good for the state by making sure this is the capital, and that we don’t divide it, waste money and play politics with how government’s run.”
However, the bill contains an exemption for any agencies not under the control of the governor, along with legislative and judicial staff jobs and any staff directly hired by the governor’s office. Wojcicki Jiminez said this carve-out was made because the study she relied upon when crafting the bill did only studied agency jobs.
Those exemptions will contain most Rutan-exempt positions — jobs in which political affiliation can be taken into account in the hiring process.
Blagojevich was widely panned, and even called “cruel” in 2008 when he announced a plan to move 140 government jobs to Harrisburg in deep southern Illinois. A little over five months after introducing the idea to move the Traffic Safety Division of the Illinois Department of Transportation out of Springfield, Blagojevich was arrested on corruption charges outside of his Chicago home.