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Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015 12:20 am

An intensely political problem

PHOTO BY ALAN SOLOMON/TNS
Last year, gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner pledged to “crack down on waste” in government in order to save taxpayers over $140 million. He also vowed to cut $500 million from the Illinois Department of Central Management Services and find another $250 million in Medicaid savings.

Very little of that has happened to date, as the governor himself inadvertently admitted during a speech last week in the southern Cook County suburbs.

Instead of saving $500 million at CMS, for example, Rauner touted just $15 million in savings, mainly from grounding the state’s fleet of airplanes – although that doesn’t take into consideration the cost of paying mileage reimbursements for all those folks who can no longer fly.

The governor identified a grand total of $107 million in what he said are savings he’s found this year, but most came from cuts at the Department of Healthcare and Family Services and people I’ve talked to aren’t buying those numbers because some major state cost controls have been allowed to expire. He also failed to mention that he vetoed a bill that the Democrats say would’ve resulted in $400 million in DHFS savings – far more than his own stated campaign goal and lots more than the $70 million he claims to have actually saved.

Gov. Rauner also bemoaned the lack of a budget and the myriad court orders which are forcing state spending at last fiscal year’s levels. “I can’t control the court orders,” the governor said. That’s true, but the governor could try negotiating with the stakeholders and the courts to come up with more affordable orders. He’s not a complete victim.

And, of course, he repeatedly complained that the Democratic General Assembly hasn’t allowed votes on a single one of his Turnaround Agenda items.

He has a right to complain, but he’s not a legislator and he needs to eventually realize that he can’t pass bills on his own.

Rauner also has to come to terms with the fact that “giving” the Democrats some Republican votes on a tax hike roll call in exchange for Democrats whacking unions isn’t exactly a Democratic “win.” To quite a few Democrats, that’s a most definite lose-lose proposition.

For crying out loud, what about an infrastructure projects plan? How about finding anything that could help grease a victory instead of this unseemly whining about how the other side won’t cave?

And the Democrats, for their part, have got to get it into their heads that they have a Republican governor.

“I’ve stated all year that I will work with the governor cooperatively and professionally, but we will not devastate Illinois’ middle class and struggling families by furthering an agenda aimed at driving down their wages and their standard of living,” said House Speaker Michael Madigan shortly after the governor’s speech last week.

OK, well, first of all, comparing Gov. Rauner to Rod Blagojevich earlier this year was definitely neither cooperative nor professional on Madigan’s part, and his press secretary claimed the governor was acting like “a scared second grader” when he skipped out of that south suburban speech without taking reporters’ questions.

Apart from that, Madigan’s two pension reform laws most definitely were designed to reduce the standard of living of retirees. And Gov. Rauner was absolutely right last week to point out the various labor law exemptions that Madigan has passed for Chicago. Even so, that doesn’t mean the Democrats would ever accede to Rauner’s demand that teachers and local government employees should be stripped of their right to bargain over wages, benefits, overtime and working conditions. Ain’t gonna happen, man.

Eventually, because the governor is so anti-union and won’t talk about a budget until he gets some wins on that front, Speaker Madigan and the Democrats are going to have to do something that unions don’t love or this impasse will never end.

The problem for the Democrats is intensely political. Rauner’s horrible idea to spend the first four months of his administration touring the state demanding a so-called “right to work” law united unions like never before. Some major trade unions actively backed cuts in pension benefits for public employees, believing it would free up money for other state spending (a position encouraged by Speaker Madigan, by the way). Now, thanks to Rauner, they’re all one big happy family.

The Democrats are so frozen in position that they can’t or won’t budge until things get so bad that they will have no other choice but to ding the unions at least a little bit, which may be the ultimate plan here.

It’s just a mess everywhere you look.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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