#ILTurnaround: Gov. Rauner is Trying to Bring Fiscal Sanity to Illinois

Back in January, I made note of Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner’s proposals to take on the unions in his state and said that it would be worthwhile to follow his efforts over the coming years. Now, he’s giving us even more reason to pay attention and, in the process, making good thus far on his promise to bring change to the government of the Land of Lincoln. On Wednesday, he outlined his new budget for the upcoming year in Illinois, and it might even put Scott Walker to shame when it comes to bold conservative reform in the Midwest. From Fox News, here’s the gist of it:

In his first budget address to the Illinois General Assembly, the new Republican governor promised deep cuts, to the tune of $6.7 billion. Higher education, local governments and other state departments are all subject to the cleaver wielded by the new governor — and the chronically underfunded pension system is due for an overhaul.

But I should also note what he’s already done:

One of his first moves upon taking office was to issue an executive order blocking “fair share fees.” This is money unions get from the paychecks of state employees who elect not to be in a union.

“The structure that is currently in place, inside government, forcing government employees to pay union dues, even if they don’t want to be in a union — that is fundamentally unconstitutional and it is against the American system of freedom of choice,” Rauner told Fox News.

You can watch his entire budget speech here, and here is his speech from February 9th announcing the executive order dealing with the unions. While his budget cuts are notable, the part of Rauner’s budget that will attract the most attention will surely be his proposed pension reforms. In the words of Chicago’s ABC 7, he wants “to junk the state pension system and replace it with a 401k-style system that he says could save $2.2 billion in the next fiscal year.”

In light of all of this, John Kass of the Chicago Tribune calls Rauner “Scott Walker on steroids” and then asks, “But is that a bad thing?” As the governor’s own speech explains, the Illinois government has been living beyond its means for a long time. These proposals might seem bold, but they are necessary to clean up the state’s ongoing fiscal woes, which are among the worst in the nation. John Tillman of the conservative Illinois Policy Institute told Kass:

“I would say Bruce Rauner is bolder than Walker had been at this stage,” Tillman said. “Walker focused on union reforms, which Rauner is doing, but Bruce is also pushing important fiscal reforms, like workman’s compensation changes, unemployment insurance, tort reform and others. These are massive structural drivers.

“But for the first time in a long time in state government, he’s also put taxpayers in front of the line,” Tillman said, adding that his analysis shows, “The governor has a built-in $500 million surplus in this budget.

“That means he’s actually spending less than he’s taking in. When have you seen this?”

So, where are the unions in all of this? As usual, they’re promising to hold up real progress. According to the Fox News article, they’ve already called his executive order both “‘illegal’ and a ‘scheme’ to strip state workers of their rights.” Does this shock anyone? They’ve been treated as sacrosanct for so long that, as our Salem compatriot Jazz Shaw notes over at HotAir, ” they likely believe their benefits are some sort of constitutionally assured right.” Nothing of the sort is true, of course, but that won’t them or a meddling judge from inventing it.

Bruce Rauner needs to know that conservatives in Illinois and across the nation are behind him all the way. His plan isn’t perfect. It doesn’t do nearly as much as Scott Walker’s union reforms up in Wisconsin, but there’s reason to believe that more will be coming soon. I’ve seen enough to give him the benefit of the doubt that he’s not through proposing new reforms, but this is an excellent start nonetheless.

With Democrats holding majorities in both houses of the Illinois legislature, it’ll be interesting to see just how much of his budget he can get enacted. Hopefully, he won’t give it all up in a worthless compromise. Let us hope that he has the kind of steel spine Scott Walker has show thus far, both in the negotiations and in the aftermath. Pay attention to Illinois, folks. Things are about to get interesting there.