Though he stressed the challenges facing Illinois, Governor Bruce Rauner also underscored his willingness to work in a bipartisan way to deliver results, when he outlined his policy agenda during his first State of the State address before a joint session of Illinois lawmakers Feb. 4 in the House of Representatives chambers.
Rauner pointed to the state’s deficit population growth and stifled employment opportunities as the root of Illinois’ problem. The Governor emphasized the state’s top priority should be to make Illinois competitive again in order to grow more jobs. He cited Illinois’ current workers compensation, unemployment insurance and liability costs as impediments to economic growth, and stressed the need to address these issues.
Increasing employment opportunities for Illinois residents, particularly minority residents, was also strongly emphasized in the thirty minute speech. The Governor stressed the need for greater diversity in apprenticeship programs and floated the idea of a Minority Enterprise Small Business Investment Program as a way to boost minority entrepreneurs.
On the same day the Senate Executive Committee approved legislation that would increase the state’s minimum wage to $11 per hour by 2019, Governor Rauner stated his interest in raising the minimum wage—in conjunction with regulatory changes to help Illinois employers.
There was strong emphasize in the Governor’s remarks on empowering Illinois residents, including giving them the ability to control local government spending when it comes to property taxes, collective bargaining issues and government consolidation.
During his address, Governor Rauner revived his pre-election calls for term limits, and also outlined new restrictions on what he identified as conflicts of interest between campaign donors and elected officials.
Additionally, Rauner echoed some legislators’ calls to merge the Comptroller’s and Treasurer’s offices, and voiced his support for efforts to reform the state’s criminal justice system. The Governor announced his intention to hire more correctional officers to improve prison safety, support offender reintegration programs and improve the state’s parole system.
Governor Rauner also stressed his strong commitment to education, noting he plans to increase education funding for K-12 and invest resources in technical and vocational training.
Though the Governor touched on the state’s serious fiscal problems, he’s expected to detail them further in his budget address on Feb. 18. Governor and his staff have been working long hours analyzing Illinois’ finances in order to get a handle on the scope of the state’s problems. They’ve found that these issues are worse than previously reported, due to unrestrained spending and mismanagement by previous administrations.