As the man who campaigned on the platform of being an outsider, intending to shake up politics as usual in Illinois, Governor Bruce Rauner has turned out to be not much more than a product of “politics as usual.” One year into his term, Illinois isn’t so much shaken up as it is just shaking from the lack of action from a man that seems more interested in his personal agenda than actually making changes.
We’ve made it five months beyond the date for setting a fiscal year 2016 budget and also five months past the contract expiration date with AFSCME, the Union that represents about 40,000 state employees. While the long, drawn out game of chicken goes on between the Democrats that hold the super-majority and the governor that has a list of non-negotiables, including the destruction of collective bargaining in Illinois, the employment contract battle forges on.
The negotiations have been on-going since early February, when the governor’s negotiation team kicked things off on the first day with a promise to negotiate in good faith to reach a fair employment contract. A few hours later, the governor announced an executive order that no union members be required to pay dues to the organization that negotiates their wages, benefits, and conditions of employment.
It was a bold power move intended to weaken AFSCME’s bargaining power in an attempt to further restrict employee rights. But what do you expect from a man who campaigned on the notion of shutting down state government by forcing a strike and then firing all the striking employees, a la Ronald Reagan with the air traffic controllers?
Negotiations have stalled, just like the budget issue, with demands over frozen wages, privatizing state government under no restrictions, and cutting healthcare to the point of over doubling the cost to the employee. Eventually, Illinois workers will be left with a negotiation impasse and the choice of accepting the harsh conditions of employment under the governor’s proposal or go out on strike, likely in the dead of winter.
Meanwhile, the budget problems get worse. The governor refuses to use a line-item veto on the attempts to pass a budget, or partial budget, that would appropriate money for employee healthcare—which the state is no longer paying, despite employee contributions continuing to be collected—and important services offered by the state that are harming its most vulnerable citizens:
“As state government lurches along, leaving unpaid bills, the fiscal crisis is hitting hard on social services to the most vulnerable—the young, the old, the poor. Domestic abuse shelters, rape crisis centers, homeless shelters, state day care centers that allow low-income parents to work are cutting back or even shutting their doors. The United Way’s president has described the situation as “grave,” with 84 percent of the 544 agencies responding to its survey reporting having to cut clients; 79 percent having to eliminate programs.
The fiscal freeze is also affecting the state’s public universities, which are cutting back on hiring, programs and construction. Presidents of nine of them sent a letter to Rauner and the legislative leaders on October 1 urging them to compromise and describing themselves as on the “brink of serious operation damage.” The uncertainty, they say, causes students and faculty to look elsewhere.
Another Republican, Comptroller Leslie Munger, whose job is to pay the state’s bills and whom the governor appointed to the job—her predecessor died in office shortly after being reelected—implored Rauner to give up the attacks on unions and work with Democrats to pass a budget.”
But here we are. It’s one year past his election date, and all Rauner has attempted to do is destroy collective bargaining rights for public employee, teachers, firemen, and police officers through passage of his “turnaround agenda,” which is essentially a non-starter for the Democrats with which he must work to get a budget solution. But what should we have expected, when this is how our political system works to favor the extremely wealthy?
Forbes reported that in 2010 the group Americans for Prosperity, which is backed by billionaire oil-tycoons Charles and David Koch, spent $45 million on elections. The brothers strongly backed Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, who in turn pushed their far right-wing anti-union agenda by restricting collective bargaining rights of public employees. He also cut $250 million from higher education and turned around and gave it to billionaire, former hedge-fund managers to pay for a new stadium for the Milwaukee Bucks.
But don’t just take my word for it on Walker. There is plenty of information out there about what his policies—or more accurately, the policies of the wealthy elite that have purchased the political shill—have done to the economy of Wisconsin’s middle class.
Which brings us back around to Rauner, who is a billionaire that once described himself as not in the top one percent, but the top one tenth of one percent. His political motivation is interestingly similar to the Koch brothers, and he’s described Walker and other union-fighting governors as role models for what he plans to accomplish in Illinois.
Meanwhile, the state is broke. Pension payments for employees haven’t been made in decades, workers are forced to continue paying healthcare premiums out of their paychecks and then pay out of pocket at the doctor or dentist, contractually scheduled raises have gone unfulfilled, and cuts to state services are forcing the needy into dire situations.
Until there can be a balanced budget and a fair union contract, these problems will continue to get worse. But the Democrats seem uninterested in Rauner’s Koch-themed ideals and Rauner seems to believe that allowing the state to crumble around him will pressure the politicians to give in to his wants. The losers in all of this are the taxpayers that bought into the wolf in sheep’s clothing. Political outsider, indeed.