With live chickens present, Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner, along with running mate Evelyn Sanguinetti, enter a news conference to outline their plan to eliminate wasteful spending. | Richard A. Chapman/Sun-Times
Rauner plan: Lawmakers should stop wasting money — on themselves
Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner on Thursday answered repeated calls to lay out his own financial vision for the state, largely turning the focus onto Illinois lawmakers and claiming if they wanted to really cut waste, they should look within.
In a shot across the bow directed at state House Speaker Michael Madigan for one, Rauner called on legislative leaders to abandon outside employment, all state lawmakers to get rid of their pensions in favor of a 401(k) and lawmakers and statewide elected officials take a 10 percent pay cut.
He also demanded that lawmakers make “pork barrel” spending more transparent
Rauner cast his opponent, Gov. Pat Quinn as only looking to hike taxes in response to fiscal challenges, when Rauner claimed he found $1 billion in savings in what he called the first of a series of proposed cuts he plans to roll out.
However, more than two-thirds of that total were broad-brush claims at “reforms” in Medicaid and the Central Management Services.
In what he called a “turning point” in his campaign, Rauner stood beside a trio of caged chickens, pointing to them as what was wrong with Illinois.
“We have spent over $100,000 flying chickens into our state. We have plenty of chickens in our state and certainly if we were desperate for more, we could drive them,” Rauner said. “We don’t need to fly them in to the cost of $100,000.”
Rauner’s assertions, however, drew criticism that he failed to understand how government works, with Gov. Pat Quinn’s campaign saying Rauner had pulled a “prank” on Illinois taxpayers.
Rauner built the news conference around a Department of Natural Resources program — mostly funded by federal grant money— to reintroduce the endangered prairie chicken to the state.
However, the flights cost a total of $7,363, according to the DNR.
The $100,00 in state money is not taken from tax dollars but from specific fees that cannot be used elsewhere, said DNR spokesman Chris Young. The money also goes toward prairie restoration and management and scientific research, he said.
“When you fill out your state income tax form that is not the money we’re using,” Young said. “These are dedicated funds that are basically, hunting licenses, fishing licenses, fees ... That money cannot be used for other purposes. You can’t take this money to pay state bills.”
Rauner’s campaign passed out to reporters a 12-page, glossy pamphlet that touted $1 billion in savings, however, much of what was proposed appeared to be a repackaged version of what he has said in the past. That includes the wealthy former venture capitalist not taking a salary or pension as governor — saying that would save $708,000.
Rauner has been under fire by Gov. Pat Quinn’s campaign for opposing the governor’s initiatives — including a proposed income tax increase — but failing to put forward his own agenda.
“What Rauner released today is a collection of newspaper clippings and lesser versions of policies Gov. Quinn already has embraced, as the governor has cut $5.7 billion in spending to date,” said Quinn campaign spokeswoman Brooke Anderson. “In fact, as part of his current budget review, Gov. Quinn is already evaluating the state’s plane usage. Rauner’s prank today notably includes a grandstanding salary provision that would mean that only millionaires and billionaires could be governor.”
Rauner — who has used the private jet of his billionaire donor Ken Griffin to campaign around the state — said he would downsize the fleet of state planes, which cost the state $5 million a year.
“We are going to eliminate Illinois’ shuttle service and sell most of the state planes. My wife and I are going to move to Springfield,” Rauner said. “We will stop this process of shuttling people regularly at a high cost to taxpayers to Springfield.”
The largest chunk of claimed savings came with few specifics. Rauner deemed that a Medicaid verification system would bring $250 million in savings and that “a comprehensive review and reform of procurement policies” at the Central Management Services and Procurement would bring $500 million in savings.
Rauner called CMS “One of the largest bureaucracies in our state government, unfortunately, it’s become a patronage dumping ground, patronage cesspool.”
Rauner didn’t single out Madigan, a Democrat often labeled the most powerful elected official in the state, but it was clear some of his proposals were aimed at the speaker, whose public approval ratings have suffered.
Rauner repeatedly brought up legislative leaders who have law practices on the side. Madigan has undergone criticism that his powerful elected position has been a boon to his private law practice.
Rauner said legislative leaders should give their full attention to legislating.
"I’ve been successful at everything I’ve ever done," Rauner said. "And I’m a leader."
A Madigan spokesman responded that he hasn’t seen a governor spend as much time working on state issues as the speaker has over the years.
“It’s becoming clearer day by day how little this guy knows about the office he’s trying to win,” Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said of Rauner.
Brown said Rauner’s proposal to move lawmakers into a 401 (k) would do nothing to cover unfunded liabilities that are paid by new workers entering the system. “It shows once again how little Rauner knows how government operates, how you make savings.”
Democratic Senate President John Cullerton and House Minority Leader Jim Durkin also are practicing attorneys. Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno has no outside employment.
Cullerton had no comment on the outline. Both GOP leaders — Radogno and Durkin — said they supported Rauner’s vision.
“All things are on the table for reform with a Gov. Rauner,” Durkin said when asked about leaders giving up side jobs. “That’s all I have to say.”
Rauner’s announcement came on the same day that Reboot Illinois, a digital media company founded by Anne Griffin, the wife of Ken Griffin, released a We Ask America poll that showed Rauner up 10 points over Quinn. We Ask America is the independent polling subsidiary of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association.