Bruce Rauner is Using a Manufactured Crisis to Bust Unions, Privatize Services and Destroy Pensions

The right-wing Illinois governor is slashing programs for the state and threatening bankruptcy for Chicago Public Schools instead of offering any revenue raising solutions.

Jennifer Ritter and Jacob Swenson-Lengyel August 5, 2015

(Metropolitan Planning Council / Flickr)

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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