Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn and Republican challenger Bruce Rauner raised nearly $100 million between them—and presumably spent about as much to warn us that if the other guy were elected governor, a calamity would befall Illinois more alarming than having to watch their campaign ads.
Now that the ballots are in, our governor-elect has to prove that his opponent and nearly half the state’s voters were wrong about him.
This is where it truly gets interesting.
Despite all the money Rauner’s campaign blew through, the state’s economic health remains fragile, and he hasn’t said much about how he’s going to fix it.
Since he no longer has to spend his time accusing his opponent of helping spread Ebola, we’d like some straight answers to a few questions about his plans. But since Rauner wasn’t available as of press time, we’ve taken the liberty of providing our own answers; we’re betting our guesses are more specific than what we would’ve gotten had we been able to reach him.
Exactly which taxes are you going to raise?
Here’s the good news: under a law already on the books, personal income tax rates in Illinois are set to drop in January, from 5 percent to 3.75 percent.
Here’s the bad news: that means we’re really hosed.
For years state government has been spending more money than it brings in, and despite a reduction in the backlog of bills, the projected deficit for this fiscal year is more than $6 billion. And that’s after billions of dollars in cuts over the last few years.
If the income tax rate is allowed to drop, revenues will decrease by another $5 billion a year, says Ralph Martire, executive director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, a bipartisan research group. In addition to the annual deficit, the state is short $100 billion in pension obligations.
In the past you’ve said that you want to extend the sales tax to cover more of the ever-growing service economy—things like attorney’s fees, haircuts, and garbage collection, which are taxed in many other states. And you’ve also vowed to cut income taxes even further, to 3 percent for individuals and 4.8 percent for corporations. (Remember when you quoted the Bible all those times on the campaign trail, saying “To whom much has been given, much has been expected?” So what about a progressive income tax?)
When the income tax drop leaves the state in an even deeper hole, we’ll be waiting to find out how you intend to get us out of it.
Will you ask house speaker Michael Madigan to help deliver the promises you made about the minimum wage?
A question on ballots across the state asked voters whether the minimum wage should be boosted, but the ballot initiative is nonbinding—conceived as part of the Democratic Party’s national strategy to make the election a referendum on whether rich guys should have to share the wealth. That’s much easier than presenting a plan to produce jobs.
You’ve flipped and flopped on the minimum wage question before eventually saying you’re for it—as long as the law is changed to protect businesses against lawsuits and workers’ compensation claims. So workers can earn more as long as they never get harassed or hurt on the job.
But the state house and senate will both be controlled by Democrats with veto-proof majorities. That means Madigan and senate leader John Cullerton will have the power to set the agenda. So, on to the real question . . .
How do you plan to deal with Madigan?
Madigan is as unpopular as he is powerful. You’ve tried your best to convince voters that you were actually running against him, which means the two of you probably aren’t about to get chummy. One of your favorite commercials lumped together our most recent governor, the speaker, and Cullerton—along with imprisoned former governor Rod Blagojevich. “Together they’ve been in Springfield for over 100 years,” the commercial declared. “One hundred years of failure is enough.”
The speaker is used to being the campaign bogeyman, especially for Republicans, says Steve Brown, his longtime spokesman. “It’s always amazing that they never think of something new, but I guess that’s why they’re where they are and why we’re where we are.”
The fact remains that any governor who wants to accomplish something—anything—is going to have to negotiate with Madigan.
How will you bring businesses to distressed areas? And other areas, for that matter?
You’ve promised that no one will be left behind as you lead the state’s economic comeback, and you’ve made a point of identifying black and Hispanic neighborhoods as priorities.
Great! Because people are wondering if you’ll bother to pay attention when you’re not campaigning.
Here’s why: you’ve often surrounded yourself with black clergy, but you didn’t employ any African-Americans in executive positions in your business. You also spent more than $28 million of your own money to get elected but didn’t hire many minority-owned firms to do campaign work. “The black community is just as broke after the campaign as before,” says Mark Allen, chairman of National Black Wall Street Chicago, a nonprofit economic advocacy group.
As governor, you have the power to set policies that prioritize investment in distressed areas, and the ability to lead the way with state contracts. Allen says that African-Americans are largely skipped over even for road construction and other projects in black neighborhoods, since contractors find other ways to meet their “minority” hiring requirements.
The state could also do a better job of breaking up large contracts into pieces to give smaller firms a chance to offer competitive bids.
Not only is all of this good for business—it’s good for politics! But that doesn’t mean any of it will happen.
People are moving out of Illinois, and many others daydream that they could be so lucky. How will you make the weather better?
It’s true—a Gallup poll released this spring found that half of all Illinois residents wish they could relocate somewhere else. You responded to the news by blaming your opponent for it, along with crime in the streets and the cost of college these days.
Still, the state population has actually been growing, though at a very slow rate—about 0.4 percent from 2010 to 2013, according to the census. That’s an addition of about 50,000 residents.
And it’s worth noting that the poll was conducted during one of the toughest winters in modern Illinois history. Perhaps it’s time to ramp up our efforts to fight climate change and promote a green economy.
Also, you could let people know why you and so many of us love the place. Maybe an ad campaign? “Pure Illinois” won’t work, since it’s a ripoff of Michigan’s rebranding effort, and because the connotation of “pure Illinois,” exemplified by this campaign, is another reason some people want out.
Given the exploitation of poor people on your watch as manager of a private equity firm, how do you plan to start cleaning up state government?
In recent years the state has cut billions of dollars in spending. But a study released in July found that Illinois residents still pay millions of dollars a year in “corruption taxes,” while trailing some neighboring states in funding for education and other services.
You’ve said your record of business management shows that you won’t tolerate that sort of waste.
Yet during the campaign you also said you weren’t responsible for deaths in nursing homes or worthless degrees handed out by for-profit colleges, even though you co-owned the companies where these things happened.
So where exactly does the buck stop, besides your campaign fund or bank account?
You’ve made it clear that you see public-employee unions as the heart of the problem. How will you work with unions to fix the state budget without settling for a costly peace or igniting a costly war?
We’ve heard the stories of patronage hiring and waste, but as Martire notes, 90 percent of the state’s general fund goes to education, health care, social services, and public safety—and even these critical areas have faced cuts in recent years.
In the past, governors and legislators have dipped into pension funds to make up the difference. Last year, though, Madigan and the General Assembly passed legislation to cut pension benefits.
You responded by calling for even more radical changes, such as converting pensions for new workers to market-based 401K-style retirement plans. You’ve also praised Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who stripped some workers of collective bargaining rights, and declared that public-employee unions are “organized against the public good.” So how do you intend to work with prison guards, child-care caseworkers, and environmental protection staff? Or do you?
Are you going to let the state go to pot? That is: Isn’t it time for Illinois to start making some money from the legalized marijuana industry?
You said you oppose the sale of medical marijuana, but since it’s going to happen, the state should profit from it.
You’re lagging behind much of the public and even the political establishment. Though medical cannabis has yet to go on sale in Illinois, some legislators are already saying that Illinois should start talking about the next step.
“I believe the goal of full legalization is the right one for our state,” state representative Kelly Cassidy said earlier this year. She was joined by three other lawmakers.
They swear it’s not because they came upon some great bud. They cite racial disparities in who’s currently being arrested for possession, and they’ve seen the numbers in Colorado, which collected $7.7 million in taxes and fees from marijuana sales in August alone.
Correction: This story has been updated to correct the name of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability.