Rauner begins by freezing nonessential spending

SPRINGFIELD — Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner moved quickly to address Illinois' budget mess Monday, taking the oath of office and then ordering state agencies to immediately freeze all nonessential spending.

The wealthy businessman told those at his inauguration ceremony in Springfield that Illinois has become less competitive and that businesses and residents have fled the state because of high taxes and overregulation. He said addressing the multibillion-dollar budget hole and other problems will require sacrifice, but it is the only way to turn Illinois around.

“Each person here today and all those throughout the state will be called upon to share in the sacrifice so that one day we can again share in Illinois's prosperity,” he said. “We all must shake up our old ways of thinking.”

Democrats, who hold veto-proof majorities in the Illinois House and Senate, criticized Rauner's speech as rhetoric that was short on specifics. They said the real test will come next month, when the new governor will have to propose a budget for next year.

Senate President John Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, called parts of Rauner's speech inaccurate, saying he seemed unaware of some of the progress the state has made in the past six years. He said Rauner, who is holding office for the first time, “is going to have to learn about state government” and the budget.

Cullerton and other Democrats also said it was unclear what impact, if any, the spending freeze would have.

“I don't know exactly what that means and I don't know if he does, either, but it sounds great,” Cullerton said.

Rauner said he's also ordering a review of all state contracts issued since Nov. 1, cutting his own salary to $1 and declining all benefits, including a pension.

He said he also plans to ask legislators during the coming weeks to work with him on a jobs and economic package aimed at putting people back to work.

In addition to the budget shortfall, Illinois has billions in unpaid bills and the worst credit rating of any state. Its public pension system has an unfunded liability of $111 billion, and a new law aimed at eliminating the debt is on hold because of a challenge before the Illinois Supreme Court.

Rauner, a private equity investor from Winnetka, defeated Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn in November to become Illinois' 42nd governor. He's the first Republican to lead the state since George Ryan left office in 2003.

He told a cheering crowd Monday that Illinois has an ethical crisis in addition to its financial problems, and he said he'll take action Tuesday to strengthen ethics in the executive branch.

“I will send a clear signal to everyone in our state, and to those watching from outside our borders, that business as usual is over,” Rauner said. “It stops now.”

Other statewide officials also took the oath of office Monday. They are Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Secretary of State Jesse White and Treasurer Michael Frerichs, all Democrats, and Comptroller Leslie Munger of Lincolnshire and Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti of Wheaton, both Republicans.

Munger was appointed by Rauner to replace the late Judy Baar Topinka, who died shortly after winning another term as comptroller in November. Munger will serve until 2016, when a special election will be held to fill the position.

Later Monday, Rauner thanked more than 350 supporters gathered for a private reception and dinner at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. He said he'll likely need to call on them again to help push a pro-business agenda through the General Assembly a job he acknowledged will be tough.

"We've got to persuade some folks who ... don't see the point of view of many in the business community," Rauner said.

Rauner started the day at an interfaith service at a downtown Springfield church where Abraham Lincoln once worshipped. Muslim, Jewish and Christian religious leaders took part in the service, including Catholic Archbishop Blase Cupich and Baptist Rev. James Meeks.

On Sunday, Rauner launched celebrations in Springfield that included a museum visit, a veterans' job fair and swanky $1,000-a-plate dinner at the Illinois Capitol.