Governor Bruce Rauner (R) of Illinois has achieved a milestone- a little over one year into his first term and Illinois has the lowest credit rating of any state and is now tied with Alaska for the highest unemployment among states in the country at 6.6%. Rauner is as ideologically rigid as other conservative true believers like Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas or Governor Rick Scott of Florida. It seems he almost set out to achieve such chaos because he has refused to sign a budget since entering office and the state's bills now total more than $159 billion in IOU's - more than twice the inflow of revenue in a single year. Social service agencies are shutting down, universities are laying off staff and programs are being cut.
Before Rauner's election, the "state's jobless rate was in the middle of the pack and unemployment was going down," according to an article in The Chicago Reporter quoting Frank Manzo IV of the Illinois Economic Policy Institute. Since Rauner entered office, joblessness in Illinois has climbed steadily while the national unemployment rate has fallen. Of course, such results are a testament to the failures of trickle down economics, which so many conservatives still seem to have blind faith in.
Rauner seems to reflexively believe that by creating a "business friendly" environment which translates to busting unions, reducing wages, cutting public services, making massive cuts to the state's university system, and bankrupting Chicago public schools, he can grow jobs when just the opposite has happened.
Before he was elected then candidate Rauner explained to a partisan crowd his game plan. As told in an article on NPR: "He said he could drive a wedge in Democratic ranks by throttling human service providers, forcing Democrats to forsake their labor allies to protect the frail elderly, the homeless, abused children, and others among society's most disadvantaged. Shutting down state government might be needed, Rauner told the partisans, and he was ready to do so."
Governor Rauner is impervious to the pain he is causing since it is primarily the poor feeling it and the poor are not the constituency of Republicans. Rauner is a member of the privileged top .01% who made his riches as a speculator and investor. He has foregone his salary as governor only to benefit by far more, as much as $750,000, from tax cuts since he took office.
Of course, House Democrats did deliver a proposed budget with a $7 billion deficit to the governor and Illinois law requires a balanced budget. However, a 2011 tax increase was allowed to expire decreasing the state income tax by 25% in 2015. In fact, Rauner campaigned on letting the higher tax rate expire. According to the Daily Kos: "Illinois Democrats, including House Speaker Michael Madigan want to raise the State income tax back up and enact a special tax on millionaires similar to the one enacted in California in 2012 to avoid billions in vital budget cuts and to begin to cope with the state's $111 billion in unfunded pension obligations." On the other hand, Rauner proposes to balance the budget entirely with cuts.
"Furthermore, the tax savings was distributed highly unequally. The bottom 60% of the Illinois income scale received just $479 million or only 13% of the total tax savings while the top 11% of tax payers received over 54% of the tax savings or over $2 billion dollars. Another one billion in annual corporate tax cuts go to the biggest, multinational corporations doing business in the State of Illinois, not small businesses which don't pay the corporate income tax." Thus, Illinois has a revenue problem as opposed to a spending problem.
"Today, nearly 90% of state spending is running on autopilot fueled by statutorily mandated spending, consent decrees and court orders," according to capital fax.com.
Many of the Rauner's objectives have nothing to do with the state's budget anyway. His agenda includes items such as "local right-to-work laws, reduced unemployment insurance and workers' compensation payments, and term limits for legislators," according to Crain's Chicago Business. While the poor suffer and the middle class shrinks, Rauner is preoccupied with term limits. Well, Nero fiddled while Rome burned!
Of course, Republicans would not be Republicans if they were flexible. Rauner and other conservative governors can not grow the economy by impoverishing workers and disinvesting in the state's educational system and infrastructure. It is spending by consumers which creates jobs in the economy and not some mythical billionaire job creators who are standing by the sidelines waiting to start hiring when taxes are lowered. Businesses look to invest in locations with a competitive educational system, which can provide them with skilled workers, and a good infrastructure to transport goods and services. Austerity and disinvestment does not create such conditions.
However, Republican governors like Rauner of Illinois, Brownback of Kansas, and Scott Walker of Wisconsin wear ideological blinders. Their thirst to bust unions and lower salaries of workers for their billionaire benefactors and corporate friends is just too strong for them to see reason. They leave devastation in their wake, but to them if only they had a little longer their vision of creating a conservative business utopia is always just around the corner. Of course, the corner is never turned.
As one wonk opined: Conservatism cannot fail, it can only be failed! Well, Rauner is the latest to fail the conservative cause or maybe it is conservatism itself which is suspect!