What Bruce Rauner can do without the Legislature
On the evening of Gov. Bruce Rauner's inauguration, the pomp had given way to a rollicking concert in Springfield's large convention center.
The heavily scripted ceremony earlier on Monday saw the new governor compared to Abraham Lincoln and revered Roman dictator Cincinnatus, reminders of the lofty expectations Republicans have for the new administration.
But along with the concert's plentiful free beer came a more sobering message.
"You can't always get what you want," a bipartisan band of state lawmakers sang, covering the Rolling Stones classic between sets by blues legend Buddy Guy and country superstar Toby Keith.
To get much of what he wants to accomplish, Rauner will need Illinois' Democratic-majority General Assembly to pass his initiatives and move legislation to his desk for signing.
But being CEO of the state gives the Winnetka Republican broad powers to make some moves on his own.
For starters, Rauner has power to cut spending.
The state budget sets upper limits on what can be spent. Rauner can't spend more money than lawmakers give him, but he doesn't have to empty the piggy bank.
"He can choose to spend less," state Sen. Karen McConnaughay, a St. Charles Republican, said. "He has broad authority over the operation of state government."
In his first week in office, Rauner issued an executive order to stop state agencies from paying out any money they don't absolutely have to spend. It's not yet clear how much money that'll save a state that is $6.7 billion behind on paying its bills -- a shortfall that could grow.
A lot of state spending is bound by state law or tied to federal programs, so parting with that money isn't optional. The state's pension payment, for example, is set to rise by a steep $760 million next year, and state law says it has to be made.
Similarly, doctors who give medical care to people who qualify under the Medicaid program will get reimbursed by the state, one of Illinois' biggest expenses. Also, Rauner likely has to honor contracts in place across state government.
He can try to save money by managing programs differently via the many top officials he'll appoint, but some bills have to get paid.
That's the law, and Rauner can't change laws on his own.
"(He) can't, by executive order, legislate," state Sen. Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat, said.
Powerful Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan is a strong advocate for the power of lawmakers in government, and he has the final say on what legislation is called for a vote in his chamber. In a showdown even before Rauner's inauguration, Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton won approval for a special election in 2016 for Rauner's comptroller appointee Leslie Munger of Lincolnshire, who was named to the office after the death of Judy Baar Topinka. Rauner wanted Munger's term to last until 2018.
One of Rauner's role models is former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who is known for trying to use executive power to accomplish things. Rauner has hired former Daniels staff for top roles in his administration.
But executive orders only affect agencies Rauner controls.
Rauner can reorganize state agencies, merging offices to save the state money or creating ones to handle particular tasks.
If there's a dispute over an executive order, Rauner can be taken to court. Or lawmakers can draft legislation to overrule him. Of course, that legislation would go to Rauner for his signature to become law, so in the case of a conflict, lawmakers would have to override a veto.
"I'm highly confident that every step we've taken so far is very much in accordance with the law," Rauner said.
Some Republicans say Rauner should be given some leeway to, as he said on the campaign trail, "shake things up."
"Absolutely, he should be given some latitude," McConnaughay said. "The Illinois people voted him in."
So far, Rauner's executive orders and actions have looked like the opening shots taken by the last few Democratic governors, undoing work by the previous administration, firing the previous governor's people and installing his own, and trying to set a new tone.
In the wake of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's impeachment conviction in 2009, for example, Gov. Pat Quinn, used an executive order to form the Illinois Reform Commission to push a package of ethics measures. Blagojevich's first executive order was to implement a hiring freeze.
"Governors do it routinely because it looks good," Charles N. Wheeler III, a professor at the University of Illinois Springfield and longtime political observer, said.
Rauner said he's not sure yet how widely he'll employ executive orders in his first term.
"Obviously, we're setting a tone early, want to take decisive action early," Rauner said. "We have a financial crisis, and we have an ethics crisis."
"I imagine we'll be using some executive orders throughout the four-year period, but I imagine we'll probably be using more early than we will later," he said.
In addition to stopping optional spending, Rauner made rules banning lobbying by people leaving his administration and making more information available about political hires.
"It's leading by example," state Sen. Matt Murphy, a Palatine Republican, said. "It's walking the walk."
Rauner has faced questions throughout the campaign and in his first week in office about how he'll work with Democrats who have a tight grip on the Illinois House and Senate because his relationships with them could define how his term goes.
Illinois governors have veto powers that are considered strong compared to other states in the U.S.
"We want the governor to succeed, and we want the state to succeed," said Harmon, a top lieutenant of Democratic Senate President John Cullerton. "But we are mindful of the appropriate roles of the executive and the legislative and the judicial branches of government. It's important that we act as a check and balance on each other."