Did the voters know what they were getting?
TRANSCRIPT: From Illinois Public Radio, it’s State of the State. I’m Brian Mackey, and the state of the state today is debatable.
By now it’s become clear that Gov. Bruce Rauner has a big agenda for labor in Illinois. But does he have a mandate from the voters for those kinds of changes?
Rauner is demanding that schools and cities be allowed to forbid unions from negotiating over pay and benefits. That’s among the conditions he’s set for negotiating with Democrats on the state budget.
Although they’re not immediate demands, he's also been pushing legislation that would do the same for state workers in Illinois, and had a proposal to let local governments create “right-to-work” zones.
Labor and its allies in the Democratic Party say they’re in an epic battle over the future of work in the state. The governor says there’s no way Illinois can ever regain a prosperous business climate without his agenda, the people sent him to Springfield to do that, and by golly he’s not backing down.
The thing is, Rauner soft-pedaled the labor aspect of his agenda during the general election, and to some extent continues to do so today. To that end, I thought it’d be helpful to have a State of the State Fake Debate.
Good evening. Representing the position that Illinois must have changes to collective bargaining: Gov. Bruce Rauner.
GOV. RAUNER: "Good afternoon. Thanks for joining us today."
On the other side: candidate Bruce Rauner.
CANDIDATE RAUNER: “Good evening. ... Thank you for the viewers joining us at home tonight."
First up Gov. Rauner: one of the points you’ve stuck to in the budget fight is that you want it coupled with a local government property tax freeze. Here you are this week, visiting an industrial bakery in the Quad Cities:
GOV. RAUNER: “And one of the things we need to do to get real property tax relief is to allow local governments to decide what gets collectively bargained."
The governor says local governments should be able to tell teachers, police officers, fire fighters no, it’s too expensive, you are no longer allowed to bargain over pay, benefits, things of that nature. But, candidate Rauner, last year, you went to a big meeting of one of the state’s largest teachers unions and said:
CANDIDATE RAUNER: "Let me be clear about collective bargaining: Eliminating collective bargaining is not part of my agenda. It is not part of my agenda.” (applause)
Governor, how about that — as a candidate you said eliminating collective bargaining wasn’t part of your agenda. But now you want local government to be able to do so. How do you square that?
GOV. RAUNER: “I am not doing — and this is important, I think, for your listeners to understand — I am not advocating what was done in Wisconsin, and Michigan, and Indiana. I’m not stripping away collective bargaining from anybody. Period. What I am saying is: let local communities decide how they handle these issues."
So if I understand it right, you’re not saying pass a law to strip collective bargaining rights away from government employees, but you are saying pass a law to let mayors and alderman strip collective bargaining rights away from government employees. Any response, candidate Rauner?
CANDIDATE RAUNER: “Pushing any specific labor regulation is not my priority at all."
OK then. Gov. Rauner, Democrats and workers who belong to unions hear about your plans and say you’re anti-union.
GOV. RAUNER: “There’a a lot of chatter out there that I’m anti-union. That’s baloney, I’m not anti-union. My grandfather was a union guy. A lot of my friends are union guys. And there’s a lot of union members who voted for me — I think I got 42 percent of union household vote in the general election. I’m not anti-union, I’m anti-conflict of interest. This is a big difference here. When a government union boss can sit across the table from a politician he just gave $5 million in union dues to, and put 5,000 of his members on to get him elected, and then say, ‘Here’s what I want for my pension. Here’s what I want for my health care. Here’s what I want for my work rules.’ That’s a conflict of interest, ladies and gentlemen. It’s wrong.” (applause)
OK, Gov. Rauner says he’s not anti-union. Citizen Rauner, back in 2011, you participated in a panel discussion on the economy at Dartmouth. What did you have to say about labor then?
CITIZEN RAUNER: “We have a financial tumor in the United States created by the public sector unions.”
Wait, did you just say that government unions are responsible for giving America a "financial tumor”?
CITIZEN RAUNER: "We can get into this more if we have time — I have a very strong view that in major sectors of our economy, and in some of our most important economic states, we have massive resources diverted from productive use in the free economy, and also resources that could be used to help the needy and the disadvantaged in our society. And those resources are being diverted for excessive compensation, both current pay and retirement pay, to government unions."
Well we didn’t hear incendiary terms like “tumor” once you began campaigning in earnest. But otherwise, this is a general area in which candidate Rauner and Gov. Rauner seem to agree, in principle if not in tone.
Finally, I want to ask about the budget stalemate. Governor, you’ve been telling people you’re "very unhappy” about the fact that social services aren’t being funded during the stalemate, as in this stop at the University of Illinois in Champaign earlier this month.
GOV. RAUNER: “Mental health services are at risk. Many other support services for our most vulnerable are at risk. I don’t want to have that happen."
Candidate Rauner — the governor says he doesn’t want social service spending hurt. You talked about Illinois’ social service spending back in 2012, when you were on a panel discussion sponsored by the George W. Bush Institute.
CANDIDATE RAUNER: "In Illinois there’s been a long-time history of what I would call social service, social justice, a bigger role for government in a safety net than in many other states. … What’s interesting, I think there’s a wedge issue here. ... We cannot afford — we will crush our economy if we try to spend money on both high-cost, inefficient, bureaucratic, heavily unionized government and a social safety net to help the disadvantaged, the weak and the poor, which many of us would like to be able to do. We can’t afford both. … We have to make a choice. I think we can drive a wedge issue in the Democratic Party on that topic and bring the folks who say, 'You know what? For our tax dollars, I’d rather help the disadvantaged, the handicapped, the elderly, the children in poverty. I’d rather have my tax dollars going to that than the SEIU or Af-scammy (AFSCME), who are out there for their own interests.'"
So candidate Rauner, back in 2012, you sketched out a plan that would have social service spending be held up as a way to prod Democrats to back your plans to weaken government labor unions like SEIU and AFSCME. But Gov. Rauner, didn’t just this week you say it was Democrats who were pressuring you on the budget?
GOV. RAUNER: “They want that kind of pressure. I believe that’s what they’re doing now. They want the pressure of no scholarships for kids. They want the pressure of no childcare as a way to push the process. That’s the only explanation I can give."
CANDIDATE RAUNER: “I think we can drive a wedge issue in the Democratic Party on that topic."
OK, that will be the last word from our debaters. Thank you to Gov. Rauner and candidate Rauner for participating.
As with any modern political debate, we’ll close with some spin from the opposing sides. I recently asked state Rep. Mike Zalewski, a Democrat from Riverside, whether Gov. Rauner has a mandate from the voters for the labor aspects of his agenda.
ZALEWSKI: “No. I don’t believe so. Because I don’t believe that when people went to the ballot box last year, their goal was to gouge unions. I believe their goal was to change the shape and trajectory of state government. … So no, I don’t think there was a mandate for this kind of fundamental dynamic shift."
The counterpoint comes from state Rep. David Harris, a Republican from Arlington Heights, who says he’s always been leery about the word "mandate."
HARRIS: “Whether or not he has a mandate. ... The governor was elected by the people of the state of Illinois. It is fair for him to say, as the elected governor, my ideas have merit. My suggestions for legislation have merit.
I guest reason I ask the mandate — I guess the mandate is kind of a stand-in for this idea that — from the Democratic perspective — well, he didn’t really campaign on this. He didn’t campaign saying, “I’m going to change collective bargaining rules at the local level." There are a lot of the other things that he’s done that I think caught people by surprise.
HARRIS: “It’s probably fair to say that his agenda was more fleshed out after the election than prior to."
And that doesn’t necessarily mean that then those things that he didn’t campaign on should be off the table or are somehow not fair game for discussion?
HARRIS: “Absolutely not. They should not be off the table. I think it is fair for discussion."
And in less than a month, Rauner and the top legislators will maybe, just maybe, have that discussion.
That’s it for this week. Thanks for listening to our State of the State Fake Debate. You can get a podcast of this show at WUIS.org. I’m Brian Mackey.
Thanks to Eric Timmons and Tyler Langan of The Dispatch/Rock Island Argus for sharing tape of the governor's recent visit to the Quad Cities. Subscribe to the State of the State podcast and other WUIS programs on our podcast page, or by copying this URL into iTunes or any other podcast app.