“Our agenda must be about empowerment, about empowering the people of Illinois to control their futures,” Governor Rauner said in outlining his first-year agenda during Wednesday’s annual Illinois State of the State Address to lawmakers at the state capitol.
The governor described Illinois’ situation as “now or never” and called for bold action in the areas of labor, taxes, education and government efficiency to make the state more competitive.
“Our state employees deserve fair, competitive wages – it’s time to revamp how compensation works in state government,” Rauner said. “Let’s emphasize quality of work instead of simply longevity of work. Let’s pay great state employees more for their excellent performance. And those who find innovative ways to save taxpayers money deserve to earn bonuses.”
He proposed a freeze on property taxes and also said the state should consolidate or eliminate some units of government. He said Illinois’ 7,000 government units–including school districts, townships and fire protection districts—are more numerous than any other state.
Regarding education, the governor reiterated a campaign theme: “From cradle to career, our children’s education needs to be our top priority.”
Rauner indicated he planned to increase education funding, identifying early childhood education and community college and vocational training as targeted areas of investment.
“We used to emphasize [vocational] programs in our high schools and community colleges, but those efforts have faded. Let’s end the era of cutting funding for technical training and community colleges,” he said.
Rauner didn’t elaborate on how to pay for the increase or how it might affect other areas of the budget. He is expected to lay out his proposed budget in two weeks during a scheduled Feb. 18 budget address.
“My position relative to the governor is that I pledge to work with him cooperatively and professionally,” House Speaker Michael Madigan said following the address. “I think that immediately we ought to focus on the deficits that are facing the state budgets.”
The State of Illinois faces a significant budget shortfall of approximately $1.5 billion in the current fiscal year, and the legislative and executive branches of state government have been working with agencies to manage the deficit.