Nobody has ever accused Bruce Rauner of being terribly original in his speeches to groups and organizations.
From event to event, his remarks have varied little in the three-plus years he’s been in office.
Last week while addressing the annual Innovations in Construction, Asphalt and Transportation conference, he uncorked one of the old classics, telling folks there (many of whom worked for or with the Illinois Department of Transportation) that the state doesn’t even have computers in a lot of departments.
We get that the state can sometimes be behind the times on its technology, but not having any computers seems … unusual.
As we’ve said, he’s offered up similar versions of this tale before, never with any specific example — like naming the department or agency and its union and bringing public pressure to bear.
So, we asked him Tuesday after his remarks which ones he was talking about.
His answer? “Haha. So, because it’s a negotiation with some of the unions, I don’t want to get into too much publicly. I’ll be walking through that list at the right time, but not right now.”
(Political columnist and blogger Rich Miller has noted several times that such a laugh at the beginning is a Rauner “tell” before a statement that may not exactly be accurate.)
Still, we wanted to check around some more.
Anders Lindall, the spokesman for AFSCME Council 31 representing some 40,000 state employees — easily the bulk of the state workforce — tells us this: “You can’t believe anything Bruce Rauner says, but you can always count on him to shift the blame. The truth is that technology is widely used across state government, and nothing in the union contract stands in the way of expanding or improving it.
“Since the governor has never backed these claims with any evidence, I suspect they exist only in his imagination,” he told us.
Now, if the matter doesn’t reside in offices with AFSCME union members, and it’s a matter under negotiation, then surely it doesn’t involve any of the other unions Rauner’s administration already has reached contracts with.
For the record, according to past releases from Rauner’s office those include: downstate Teamsters; Teamsters / Professional and Technical Employees Local Union No. 916; Teamsters of Fox Valley; Teamsters Local 700 in Cook County and the master sergeants in the State Police; the International Brotherhood of Boiler Makers – Iron Shipbuilders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers; Illinois State Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers; United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; SEIU Local 1, Fireman and Oilers Division; International Union of United Food and Commercial Workers; Laborer’s International Union of North America (prevailing rate); International Association of Machinist and Aerospace Workers; International Union of Operating Engineers Local 399; International Union of Painters and Allied Trades; United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry; and the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers.
So, where’s the problem at, gov? (C.K.)
Pensions need a fix, too
Illinois governor candidate J.B. Pritzker wants to change the state constitution to allow for a graduated income tax.
He should consider another constitutional alteration, one that might have a more lasting effect on Illinois’ perpetual budget problems.
A graduated income tax has been a hallmark of Pritzker’s campaign, but the Illinois constitution prevents changes from the flat rate. Right now, that rate is 4.95 percent.
In a recent interview with the Chicago Tribune, Pritzker said if elected, he would seek to raise the flat rate temporarily and increase credits and deductions. All that would take effect while the General Assembly considers a constitutional amendment to institute a graduated tax.
Pritzker, a Democrat running against incumbent Republican Bruce Rauner, has not said what the increased rate should be.
“… Really, you’d have to negotiate with the Legislature over what those rates are and look at the budget for that year you’re putting it in place for,” Pritzker told the Trib. “So then you really couldn’t name the rates until you had that negotiating process.”
Ultimately, voters would have to approve a constitution change.
Pritzker didn’t mention a peskier aspect of the 48-year-old constitution — the part that guarantees payment of public-employee pensions. The Illinois Supreme Court has ruled unconstitutional any change to those pension benefits.
Ever-increasing pension payments, many of them generous, might be the prime contributor to the state’s budget problems. The unfunded pension obligation ballooned to at least $130 million last year.
A solution can be tricky. Those public employees eligible for a pension played by extremely flawed rules. The burden on Illinois taxpayers already is high.
If Pritzker is this enthusiastic about a graduated income tax, he should be equally insistent on perhaps streamlining pensions for future public employees, too, at the very least.
Most private-sector workers have 401(k) retirement plans, not defined-benefit plans. Public employees probably should be no different.
In concert, new income-tax and pension structures might be the best thing that could happen to Illinois’ fiscal house. But raising taxes alone isn’t going to solve anything, as history has proven.
Pritzker should advocate for pension changes as hard as he’s advocating for Illinoisans to pony up more money. He also should give us at least an idea of how much more he wants us to pay, while he’s at it. (N.V.)
By now, you’ve probably read, heard or seen about the outbreak of tainted batches of synthetic cannabis that have put dozens of people into the hospital in central Illinois.
The material has sickened more than 70 people locally in Peoria and Tazewell counties and represents more than half the cases of severe bleeding statewide.
State officials with the Department of Public Health sounded the alert and sent general guidance to county health departments around the state, urging them to make their local media outlets aware and to keep track of their contacts with media about the topic.
IDPH also kept a running tally on its website, offering an update each day of the number of reported cases by county.
In short, it seemed that they were treating this as a substantial public health topic and staying on top of keeping the public informed.
Imagine our surprise, then, when the first weekend rolled around after the outbreak began. No updates online. Not because of a couple of days free of problems, but because of a bit of verbiage we hadn’t noticed on the state site.
It pledged updates each weekday only, as though the drugs took a weekend off and perhaps somehow the flow of blood from every orifice was stanched.
We made an inquiry to IDPH about that last Monday. They haven’t seen fit to respond to us for almost a week.
But several area lawmakers also had concerns about the need for consistent public notification and reached out themselves during the middle of the week.
Reps. Mike Unes and Jehan Gordon-Booth and Sen. Dave Koehler were told the department saw it as important enough to begin updating the data daily, including weekends. And, true to its word, the department changed its website to reflect that new material would be posted each day.
Such notice is important, especially in the epicenter of a crisis. State officials — and leaders like the governor — have rightly been dinged for being slow to notify the public of, for instance, the outbreak of Legionnaire’s at the state veterans home in Quincy.
We’re glad that, after some reflection, they’re doing a better job here. (C.K.)
Chris Kaergard (C.K.) covers politics and government. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 686-3255. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisKaergard. Nick Vlahos (N.V.) writes “Nick in the Morning.” He can be reached at email@example.com or 686-3285. Follow him on Twitter @VlahosNick.