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[Reprinted with permission from In These Times. All rights reserved.]
Bruce Rauner isn’t particularly known for his subtlety—he once said lawmakers should lower the minimum wage in Illinois. In a campaign ad from December 2013, Rauner walks onto a white screen, examines a claw hammer, and puts it on the counter. He reaches down and pulls out a sledgehammer with a self-satisfied look on his face. “Bruce Rauner, he’ll bring the hammer to Springfield,” a voice says while jaunty music plays in the background.
It’d almost be funny, if it didn’t represent a sincerely held governing philosophy that’s making millions of people’s lives worse. Less than a year after the billionaire bought the governorship of Illinois for $65.9 million—including $27.6 million of the his own money—Rauner is using a manufactured budget crisis to make good on that campaign promise.
Illinois had serious budget problems, even before the recession began. Like many other places, the supposedly “blue” legislators in Illinois refused to change the state’s regressive tax structure to bring in more revenue from corporations and the wealthy. While the state starved of revenue, lawmakers have—among other things—used the pension system as a piggy bank to paper over the problem, and continued to hand out corporate tax breaks. The recession simply unearthed the structural rot at the heart of the system.
Rauner may not have invented this “starve the beast” political strategy, but he’s wasted little time exploiting it for his own ends. And they are particularly nefarious ends.
Rauner’s Blackmail Agenda: Exploit the Crisis to Advance Extreme Right-Wing Policies
If you like Scott Walker, you’ll love Bruce Rauner. In February, Rauner issued an executive order blocking public employee unions from collecting “fair share” fees, or payments from non-union members who nonetheless benefit from collective bargaining done on their behalf. The order is intended to decimate public employee unions, not just in Illinois, but across the nation. As unions rightfully fight the executive order, Rauner hopes the case will make it to the Supreme Court, where following last years Harris v. Quinn ruling, many experts believe conservative justices may be poised to strike down fair share fees nation wide.
That was just an opening foray. Now Rauner is using the budget crisis to blackmail legislators into supporting his anti-worker policies. He refuses to raise revenue unless the state legislature, Cook County and municipalities across the state bow to his anti-union, destabilizing “turnaround agenda.” He has also created and funded two different PACs to lavish money on lawmakers who support his agenda, while punishing those who stand against it.
As a result of this blackmail scheme, the State of Illinois began its fiscal year on July 1st without a budget and in crisis. And that’s where we are today. Social service organizations that have already been cut to the bones continued with the layoffs and program closures that have been mounting since the financial crisis. Now, there is inadequate funding for homeless services, childcare assistance, senior programs, schools, infrastructure, prison staff, and teachers.
Summer has started and violence is on the upswing in Chicago. Ceasefire, the state funded violence prevention program that directly intervenes in gang shootings, has been zeroed out since March. Shootings in Chicago in May were up 30% from last year. In the Uptown community in Chicago, where my organization ONE Northside, has its office, homicides by shooting have increased 500% from last year according to the Chicago Police Department.
In the chaos created by this crisis, Rauner is working to decimate vital services provided by the State of Illinois, destroy any hope of a decent retirement for working people, decrease federal funds coming into Illinois, privatize government functions (he is currently proposing to partially privatize the Department of Economic Opportunity, which hands out corporate tax breaks), crush organized workers, and kill the formerly healthy non profit sector.
Rauner has publicly stated that the Chicago Public Schools should declare bankruptcy and he is pushing policies that are starving the schools of funds. Bankruptcy paves the way for further privatization and union busting. Even Crain’s Chicago Business calls this sort of talk “dangerous.”
The Solution is Simple: Illinois Needs to Raise Revenue
The solution to this crisis is straightforward. It’s not that Illinois is broke, it’s that Governor Rauner and our ‘blue’ legislature are letting our largest corporations and wealthiest residents skip out on their bills. Righting the budget will require rewriting the tax code to bring in more revenue.
We have a flat tax in Illinois, which means working class families pay the same tax rate at billionaires like our Governor, Bruce Rauner. Legislators should be working immediately to amend the Illinois state constitution and rewrite the law to institute a fair tax code that makes state’s wealthiest inhabitants pay more to support the government structures that have made their success possible.
Even more egregious still, more than 2/3rds of corporations doing business in Illinois pay no income tax to Illinois. This outrageous situation is the result of loopholes created by an army of corporate lobbyists and complicit politicians. Closing these loopholes could bring in billions of dollars to close our budget shortfall.
Only People Power Can Force Governor Rauner and State Lawmakers to Change Course
People from across the state are stepping up and demanding that Governor Rauner and state legislators pursue this straightforward solution. Social service providers, clergy, immigrants, union members, homeless people, and other people of conscience are standing together and pushing back with a steady stream of direct actions.
Clergy and community members from a coalition called Fair Economy Illinois have been joining together to hold “Moral Monday” actions for the past 2 months, modeled on the North Carolina movement protesting similar austerity, assaults to voting rights and other social issues. These Moral Monday actions in Illinois have highlighted high power billionaires who have contributed to and benefit from Rauner’s regressive proposals.
Clergy have engaged in civil disobedience. On June 29th, eight people were arrested for trespassing in the lobby of the Citadel, the hedge fund run by Ken Griffin, who donated $13 million dollars to Bruce Rauner. They were attempting to speak to him about the budget impasse in Illinois.
One of the clergy arrested and held for over 6 hours in jail was Reverend Fred Kinsey, Pastor of Unity Lutheran Church and ONE Northside Board member. “Civil disobedience is required when our laws and political leaders cheat and rig the system in favor of the rich and take away equal opportunity,” Kinsey said. “The governor is completely out of touch with the impacts of his choices—he is pulling the rug out from under the most vulnerable people in my community. How much more can a homeless family be asked to contribute to this “shared sacrifice”?”
The people of Illinois are not stupid, and can see through the self serving actions of an ultra rich businessman who has made a career out of tearing things apart. Rauner may want to be the next poster boy for the radical right, but we will not allow Illinois to be one of his casualties.
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