Job creation was at the forefront of Wednesday’s State of the State address by Gov. Bruce Rauner, who also called for the passage of pension reform and property tax relief, and the end of the state’s 7-month old budget stalemate.
“We have the ability to lead the nation in growth and opportunity, and yet, jobs and people are leaving our state,” Rauner said. “And we watch other states emerge from the Great Recession, while our employment and growth stagnates. We have fewer jobs today than we had at the turn of this century.”
Dale Fowler, Republican candidate for the seat in Senate District 59 and mayor of Harrisburg, said business development is essential in keeping Illinois profitable. He said his time in the banking industry gives him a unique perspective in this situation.
“I’m not sure if people really understand how rapidly companies are moving out, and or, are planning to do so,” Fowler told Illinois Business Daily. “That’s the part that scares me, probably more than anything at this stage.”
Illinois must work harder to compete with other states for jobs, Rauner said. He also called for reforming the state’s workers’ compensation program, saying the cost of workers’ comp is “the biggest factor driving our job losses.”
Another issue facing state finances is pension reform. Rauner announced Wednesday he has worked closely with Senate President John Cullerton to create a bipartisan bill that would save the state $1 billion.
Fowler said he’s optimistic about the proposal.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” Fowler said. “Reform, it’s imperative. I think we all know that so I’m glad to hear that this sounds like they’re coming to a compromise.”
Another hot issue in the state right now relates to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (ASFCME) and merit pay. Wednesday, the governor called for unions to help foster a sense of competition in the market, a viewpoint many fellow Republicans have echoed.
As a state employee, Fowler said he was part of a union and received merit pay and thinks it is a valid form of incentive.
“If it’s handled properly by the administration - I would like to read the full language of that - and good faith is put into the administration to preserve it, I think there could be some rewards with that,” Fowler said.
In his speech, Rauner called on state lawmakers to act with “mutual respect” in working to pass the gridlocked budget. He said there is still time for Illinois to make historic progress.
Democrat incumbent state Sen. Gary Forby, who represents District 59, said motivational speeches aren’t how budgets get passed.
“We want a budget," Forby told Illinois Business Daily. "He needs to put something in writing and let us vote on it. That is the only way you get anything done in Springfield. You don’t get anything done up there talking like he did today. Put it in writing and let every legislator in the state of Illinois vote on it.”
The feeling from those outside the chambers is that the budget could finally be nearing completion.
“I think we’re closer,” Fowler said. “It sounds like from the feedback I’ve been getting that they’re inching their way there. I feel like it’s a little more positive today than it was yesterday.”
Inside the capitol, Forby said talk is cheap - that his fellow Democrats want to see action from the governor.
“I think what he’s done for the last year is talk and he hasn’t done nothing,” Forby said. “Put something in writing, let us vote on it. He is talking about all districts in the state of Illinois want this and want that -- let everybody in their district vote and then you’ll know what the state of Illinois wants.”
Rauner also pushed for term limits on elected officials and for redistricting reform. He also announced plans for sweeping changes in the public education system that he says would put more money into classrooms and hold schools accountable for their performance.
Fowler said on personal level for District 59, he was most excited to hear about prison reform. The governor announced plans laid out by a bipartisan commission to safely reduce the state’s prison population by 25 percent by 2025.
“These and other reforms will lead to fewer victims of crimes, a better pathway back for ex-offenders and safer communities for all,” Rauner said.
Fowler said he is enthusiastic about what impact these reforms could have on District 59.
“Here in our district, we have three work camps that have been closed in the last few years so hopefully there is some opportunity there to reform the inmates along with services and more structure and procedure for them,” he said. “That was promising because we’re so reliant on state government here in the 59th district that these facilities that have closed have made a substantial economic impact in our area.”