Rauner's financial warnings have familiar ring

  • Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner is likely to highlight the state's fiscal crises during his first State of the State address on Wednesday, but he'll face the challenge of conveying the situation's urgency to Illinoisans who've heard similar dire warnings from Springfield for most of the past decade.

    Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner is likely to highlight the state's fiscal crises during his first State of the State address on Wednesday, but he'll face the challenge of conveying the situation's urgency to Illinoisans who've heard similar dire warnings from Springfield for most of the past decade. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 2/2/2015 3:35 PM

Gov. Bruce Rauner is set to stand before lawmakers and TV cameras Wednesday, three months to the day since he was elected, and deliver his first State of the State address.

He's likely to emphasize the depth of Illinois' financial hole, as he's been doing in appearances around the state.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But he'll also face the difficulty of trying to convey the urgency of the situation to Illinoisans who already have heard a decade of talk about debts, deficits, late bills and shortfalls.

"We have got to deal with the bureaucracies -- I'm going to demand that we do it," Rauner said last week.

The last time the state didn't need the next year's money to pay the previous year's bills was fall 2001.

The state ended that fiscal year $300 million ahead, according to a report from the bipartisan Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability. After that, Illinois fell behind and has been trying to catch up ever since, with last year's budget behind by nearly $4 billion, the commission said.

On Monday, the state program that helps low-income families pay for day care ran out of money. Rauner has sought to emphasize that Democratic former Gov. Pat Quinn signed the budget into law that allowed that to occur, and Democratic lawmakers crafted it.

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"As a result, payment delays to child care providers will develop and will grow progressively worse," a memo from the governor's office reads. "The Child Care Program is one example of the prior administration's neglect in managing programs within available resources and ignoring significant fiscal crises during the first half of the fiscal year."

Financial crises have piled up over the years and people in Illinois have grown accustomed to hearing dire messages about them.

In 2008, Democratic then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich said: "For me to sign this budget would be lying to the people of Illinois. It would be like writing a check that I know would bounce."

As unpaid bills piled up, Republican then-Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka said in 2011: "God, how much more can our people take?"

And last year, Quinn tried to make a case for keeping a higher income tax rate by saying: "If action is not taken to stabilize our revenue code, extreme and radical cuts will be imposed on education and critical public services."

He didn't get the tax increase.

"The budget doesn't avoid the tough decisions," Quinn's spokeswoman said in May. "It just postpones them."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Rauner doesn't have to propose a budget Wednesday. That comes Feb. 18. But his speech this week could lay the foundation his yet-to-be-unveiled financial plans rest on.

"I'm looking forward to the governor's speech on the 18th," said state Rep. David McSweeney, a Barrington Hills Republican. "That's the most important day of the session, the governor's budget address, in my opinion."

Lawmakers will take it from there and could clash with the new governor.

"We've cut a lot," said state Rep. Fred Crespo, a Hoffman Estates Democrat. "And it hasn't been easy."

•Daily Herald Staff Writer Erin Hegarty contributed to this story.

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