Illinoisans have a lot to be proud of — we live in a beautiful state in the heart of America. Our people are hardworking, our soil is among the most productive in the world, our transportation systems are first rate, we have a world-class city and hundreds of great small towns. The list could go on and on.
But to our shame is our state government. Illinois is at or near the top on a lot of bad lists: corruption, tax burden, unfunded liabilities, and debt.
That list caused a plurality of Illinois Republicans to bet on Bruce Rauner in the 2014 primary, and a bare majority of voters gave him the governor’s mansion that fall. Now, three years into his term, John J. Miller, writing at the conservative magazine National Review, has ranked Rauner the worst Republican governor in America.
Miller began his article referencing Rauner’s October two-minute Harley Davidson riding reelection announcement video reminding voters of his pledge to “fight business as usual.”
This boast came about a month after Cardinal Blase Cupich accused him of breaking his word and the Chicago Sun-Times put his picture on its front page, below a headline that shouted: “Benedict Rauner.” The governor’s offense was to have signed what may be America’s most radical abortion-funding law after vowing to veto it. The betrayal capped a season of defeats for conservatives, including an income-tax hike, a big bailout of Chicago’s public schools, and turning Illinois into what critics of illegal immigration are calling a “sanctuary state.”
Now Rauner, 60, confronts a problem that few would have predicted as recently as last spring: a possible Republican meltdown in the Land of Lincoln. In next year’s GOP primary, he’ll face a scrappy challenge from a credible conservative opponent. Jeanne Ives is a graduate of West Point, a mom, and a wonky state representative from Wheaton, Ill. “Somebody needs to stand up for Republicans and conservatives,” she says. “We can do a lot better than Bruce Rauner.”
Miller provides his own list of Illinois’ ugly condition:
This much is clear: Illinois hardly could do worse. It suffers from one of the weakest economies in the nation, with the slowest personal-income growth, low labor-force participation, and distressing levels of manufacturing-job losses. Its tax burden is among the heaviest in the country. It has the lowest credit rating of any state (just a notch above junk-bond status) and the highest level of unfunded pension liabilities (about $250 billion, according to Moody’s). Four of its last ten governors have wound up in prison. “Illinois is worth fighting for,” says Rauner in his new campaign ad — but many of its citizens have chosen to flee. The state has lost population every year since 2014.
Twice Miller mentions the fact that Governor Rauner was willing to sign a tax increase if Democrats gave him some of his “turn-around” plan. Here is Miller’s second reference: “On June 20, the governor announced that he’d accept an increase to the state income tax, raising it from 3.75 percent to 4.95 percent.” Since those turn-around items were not enacted, Rauner vetoed the income tax increase.
Although conservatives grumbled about Rauner’s tactics — why didn’t he put forth his own balanced budget? — they also wanted to stand by a governor they still viewed as an ally. Many Republicans, however, began to grow restive.
After his veto was overridden, John Tillman, the CEO of the Illinois Policy Institute weighed in:
“The ‘Turnaround Agenda’ went from 44 reforms to none… Rauner once talked about reducing the income tax to 3 percent. Instead, he opened the door to the biggest income-tax hike in state history.”
Often when Illinois is written about in a national publication, the writers fail to do their homework. John J. Miller did his homework, mentioning in the piece the incredible fact that state government pension payments “gobble up a quarter of the state’s expenses, with no end in sight.”
Miller also summarized Rauner’s summertime staff shake-ups, his turning Illinois into a sanctuary state, and his making it “easier to change the sex listed on birth certificates.” Chicago has long been famous for its voter fraud, but Rauner approved “a bill that automatically registers people to vote when they renew driver’s licenses.” That sounds like a great idea, doesn’t it?
Then Miller summarized Rauner’s “most provocative action,” creating “a new entitlement to abortion.”
Pro-lifers expressed shock and disappointment. “He did break his word,” said Cardinal Cupich, in an interview with the Chicago Tribune. “He broke his word to the people, especially to those who have continued to speak on behalf of the vulnerable child in the womb.” Conservative lawmakers also objected. “Even the most corrupt Chicago machine politicians think twice before lying to a priest,” said state representative Peter Breen.
On Facebook, Tillman, of the Illinois Policy Institute, posted a warning: “Generals cannot lead when they betray their troops.”
State Representative Jeanne Ives filed her petitions this week so she will be on the Republican primary ballot challenging Rauner. Next March we will see if his massive campaign war chest can overcome his status as the worst governor in America.