Depending on who you ask, it was either Washington AP Bureau Chief Byron Price or House Speaker Tip O’Neill who coined the phrase that “all politics is local.”
Gov. Bruce Rauner came to Kane County on Election Day 2015 with a message that most government should be, too.
Rauner’s address during Tuesday morning’s whirlwind press conference in the auditorium of the Kane County Government Center stuck closely to the theme of local control.
“Government belongs to the people, it belongs to the families. Our core agenda is to empower local voters,” he said. “Do mandates have to come from Springfield? I say no. Don’t let Springfield put unfunded mandates on our schools. Let our teachers teach. Let our governments manage. Let local voters decide the costs inside government.”
Rauner delivered that message on three planks and with one specific “ask.” He wants Kane County and other local units of government to pass a resolution in support of the Illinois Turnaround.
“Please endorse our agenda. We’re handing out full, detailed copies, and that’s what I’m asking the Kane County Board to consider,” he said. “We need grassroots momentum. Endorse the concept of choice, and we’ll convince the legislature.”
The three planks of reform Rauner emphasized Tuesday fall under the categories of pension reform, labor union decision-making and term limits.
Rauner said the pension system in Illinois is broken.
“We can’t afford it. It’s not fair to our government employees, and it’s not fair to our taxpayers,” he said.
Rauner said he strongly believes that no existing pensions should be tampered with, whether that pension is for a police officer, firefighter, electrical worker or any other public employee.
“What they’ve earned should not be reduced,” he said. “You don’t reduce somebody’s benefits.”
What needs to be done, he said, is to create “a second pension plan for future work that’s different than the prior one.”
“If we do that, it would save us $2.7 billion in the first year,” he said. “I’d like to see the same opportunities for local pensions. You should control that. You should decide.”
Details of local government control of the collective bargaining process weren’t part of the governor’s speech Tuesday, but the components are outlined in “The Illinois Turnaround” packet on the state of Illinois website. They include legislation that would authorize local governments to exclude certain topics from collective bargaining, such as the use of third-party contractors, wages in excess of limits established by local governments, use of employee time in the business of labor negotiations and, in the case of schools, curriculum or standards of academic performance, conduct and discipline.
Finally, Rauner talked about establishing term limits, and he asked for Kane County support of the concept.
“Democracy doesn’t work when the power of incumbency is too long,” he said.
Kane County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen introduced the governor and set the framework for further conversation. Lauzen emphasized that the board would only proceed in places in which there is consensus, cohesion and common ground.
“The ultimate authority for taking every action in Kane County rests with our County Board,” he said. “I can make proposals to 24 independently elected representatives of 523,000 people, but in the end, they decide and I implement their decisions.”
Rauner’s Illinois Turnaround plan includes a boilerplate resolution on “Local Government Empowerment and Reform,” but Lauzen made it clear in his remarks Tuesday that one size doesn’t fit all, and the Kane County Board would determine the content of any resolution it decides to draft.
“We can customize our approach toward supporting reform in Springfield,” he said.
Kane County board members represent “the entire spectrum of views on organized labor and other important matters,” Lauzen said. “However, that diversity of viewpoints — which really represents a microcosm of the larger Illinois — doesn’t mean we should retire from the conversation about reform in Springfield.”
Lauzen said board members should be able to agree on a number of propositions: that Kane County wants to be part of the problem-solving, that local government and state government serve the same citizens and can work together in areas of common interest, that pension reform, Medicaid sustainability and government consolidation are among the major issues that need to be tackled, that income taxes should be kept low and that solid accounting practices are necessary to ensure a truly balanced budget.
Some of the “more controversial” areas of conversation, he said, include the nature of and negotiations with government-employee unions, the potential conflicts of interest in union-related political campaign contributions and the viability of enacting term limits. Lauzen said he sponsored term-limit legislation twice in the state Senate, and some colleagues darkly joked that “it was like asking chickens to vote for Colonel Sanders.”
Lauzen said he would support conversation that is “productive and illuminating,” but he is “only interested in building consensus and strengthening our effectiveness, not sowing conflict.”
“Gov. Rauner’s view is that decisions regarding the nature of union membership ought to be made locally,” he said. “There ought to be local control. He is saying that if Kane County wishes to continue its traditions and practices of organized labor, that’s OK, but it ought to be up to you.”