Rauner unmoved in budget fight

Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks at the DeKalb County Economic Development Corporation’s Annual Dinner and State of the County event Thursday in the Holmes Student Center, Duke Ellington Ballroom. Rauner spoke to DeKalb business leaders about cutting regulations that stagnate local business growth. “This is one of the best locations in America to build business,” Rauner said.

By Keith Hernandez

More than a couple hundred voices didn’t budge Gov. Bruce Rauner on Thursday, but not because he couldn’t hear them.

Rauner, about 20 pounds lighter than he was in January, said during a visit to NIU he will stay the course on his refusal to continue budget talks until the General Assembly considers spending reforms. The absence of a four-month overdue state budget stands in the way of more than 5,000 NIU students attaining Monetary Assistance Program funding.

Local organizations and programs, including Safe Passage and the Child Care Assistance Program, have had to scale back services because of the impasse.

Rauner said he would veto a $373 million bill that would fund MAP because he does not want a budget that is in a $5 billion deficit to be passed unbalanced or in pieces.

“I hate that we’re not funding child care. … I hate that we’re not getting scholarships for kids who need support,” Rauner said. “It’s driving me nuts, but we’ve got to have a budget that’s really balanced, and we need structural reform.”

Students from colleges across the northern Illinois region and community members demonstrated outside of the Holmes Student Center, where Rauner spoke during the DeKalb County Economic Development Corporation’s Annual Dinner and State of the County event.

Spending reforms

Rauner said he is willing to resume budget talks with the General Assembly if it considers spending reforms that are a part of his Turnaround Agenda. These changes include pension reform, which he said would save Illinois $2 billion annually, and the lowering of property taxes, which are the second highest in the country next to New Jersey, according to the Tax Foundation.

“One of the things that will help us get reform is after Jan. 1, any bill only needs a majority to have an immediate impact on the budget rather than a supermajority,” Rauner said. “So, I’m cautiously optimistic that we get things done in January. I hate that it’s taking that long; it should have been done four months ago, but we’re going to stay strong.”

Other changes proposed by Rauner are establishing term-limits on elected officials and redistricting reform to avoid gerrymandering.

“Here’s a sad fact: Because the legislature has refused to vote on very common sense bipartisan reforms, we don’t have a budget. It’s ridiculous we don’t have a budget,” Rauner said. “It’s unconscionable the legislature just refuses to do what they should and vote for reforms and get real balance.”

DeKalb a leading economy

The purpose of Rauner’s visit was to speak to DeKalb business leaders about establishing less restrictions for businesses to invest in Illinois, a state he said is stagnating local economic growth.

“This is one of the best locations in America to build business,” Rauner said, citing DeKalb’s agriculture and manufacturing base, and its proximity to Chicago and Rockford. “The tragedy is policies in Springfield are holding you back.”

As a part of the Turnaround Agenda, proposed reforms to increase business friendliness throughout Illinois are to cut worker’s compensation and Medicaid spending, among other reforms.

“We can’t just only raise taxes, put a massive tax-hike on our small business owners, our working families, our home owners and think that things will be better,” Rauner said. “That math doesn’t work.”

Rauner also proposed less restrictions on competitive bidding, handing control of the bidding process to municipalities instead of Illinois.

“DeKalb epitomizes the competitive advantages Illinois [has] got going for it,” Rauner said. “If we could unleash your potential, and the potential of the people in Illinois, we will kick tails. And I am one competitive son of a gun.”

Demonstration continued

Demonstrators, though few, were still waiting outside of the Holmes Student Center when the event ended. They held signs pleading for funding for state-funded services.

“It’s just disappointing that all across Illinois, domestic violence shelters are having to turn people away who are fleeing literally for their lives, and the governor is here giving a key-note address about the economy in DeKalb County,” said Sarah Slavenas, coordinator of prevention efforts at Safe Passage. “It’s inappropriate.”

Senior CLCE major Lizbeth Roman, who had been waiting outside of the Holmes Student Center with Laura Vivaldo, junior political science major, asked NIU President Doug Baker on his way out if he was able to hear demonstrators chanting during the dinner. He did not, she said.

Roman and Vivaldo, who carried a sign that read, “Fund Higher Education,” said their conviction to see Rauner grew with every automated campus bell.

“It’s just another hour, and then you begin to wonder is he even here,” Roman said.

Rauner did not meet with members of the demonstration.