The Way Forward

road-815297_640.jpgWhile the Illinois budget shutdown is center stage right now, the General Assembly has sent Governor Bruce Rauner hundreds of bills to either sign or veto. I’ve had one of the three bills for which I’m chief sponsor signed—a bill to eliminate an unnecessary unit of DuPage County government—while two more are still awaiting gubernatorial action.

As a new member of the Illinois General Assembly, I have experienced my fair share of “firsts,” but one that’s a “first” for all of us is seeing how Governor Rauner works differently than our past governors. In the past, the governor’s signing or veto was a foregone conclusion. If the bill made political sense or someone needed a favor, he signed it. If not, he vetoed it.

Governor Rauner has taken a different approach. For every bill, he has ensured that there are multiple layers of staff studying, debating, and reviewing the bills. They ask a lot of questions. For instance, will the bill help the economy to create jobs? Will the bill reduce government bureaucracy or grow it? Does the bill serve special interests or the people’s interest?

The governor himself will even participate in these sometimes vigorous debates about the merits of a particular bill, before he makes the decision to sign or veto it. You might think this would be standard practice, but it’s not. Considering the reaction I got when folks in Springfield realized that I was reading the bills—and asking specific questions about the effect of bill language—I guess this shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Some bills, however, don’t need a lot of debate before vetoing. One that has received a lot of press is the governor’s recent veto of Senate Bill 1229.  This bill is described as being related to “Interstate Medical Licensure.” However, what the bill actually does is upend the historical balance of the labor-management relationship, just for state government unions. Instead of a negotiation on fair terms between representatives of labor (the AFSCME union representatives) and representatives of “management” (our elected officials), the bill would put the terms of labor contracts in the hands of an unelected arbitrator. In other words, the taxpayers will foot the bill for the contract, even if their elected representatives—in this case, the Governor and members of the General Assembly—don’t agree to the terms of the contract.

The Governor recently negotiated an agreed contract with Teamsters union leaders, who represent several thousand state workers, so it’s not as if the Governor can’t or won’t negotiate in good faith. Governor Rauner wants fair wages and benefits for government workers, and with our state nearly bankrupt, that’s not being “anti-union” or “unreasonable.” It’s just common sense.

If this bill were to go into law, there would be nobody really looking out for the taxpayers, which is a primary reason why our state is in the fiscal mess that we’re suffering today.

The backstory is that the bill was intended as a political move by Speaker Michael Madigan and his members to generously pay back the AFSCME union leaders for their support in past (and presumably future) elections. AFSCME wants an up to 29% pay increase over 4 years, generous pension payouts, and overtime after 37.5 hours (instead of the usual 40 hours). This bill wouldn’t ensure a “level playing field,” which everyone supports. This bill would be a massive giveaway, at your and my expense!

Local editorial boards have seen through this charade, using words like “unsettling” and “flawed” to describe the bill and the process used to pass it through the House and Senate. However, Speaker Madigan and his majority caucus are expected to bring the bill back in the next couple weeks to seek to override the Governor’s veto.

As we continue into the second month of the Illinois state budget shutdown, you’re seeing two visions of government very clearly demonstrated: one way looks back and one looks forward. Whether you agree with everything the Governor has proposed or stands for, his proposed solutions for Illinois are clearly the way forward, while Speaker Madigan’s proposals are the way backward.