A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The coward’s way out of budget cuts

Bill Knight column for Mon, Tues., or Wed., July 6, 7 or 8

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner is hiding behind his billions and trying to get lawmakers to take responsibility for drastic cuts that the first-term Republican wants made.

Rauner is bullying those who disagree with his “turnaround agenda,” too. By refusing to negotiate with lawmakers on the state budget or the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) on state employees’ expired contract, and by using some of his special fund of $30 million for attack ads, he seems to be whining, “If I don’t get my way, then I’ll take my ball and go home.”

His way is a one-sided scheme that would punish workers and unions, lawsuit plaintiffs who juries say deserve awards, the poor, seniors, the ill, children and universities, and would propose privatizing public services and limiting lawmakers’ terms apart from elections where they can be removed anyway.

And, again, he’s refusing to take ownership of the cuts; he’s not telling those affected that he’s singling them out.

As for Illinois’ budget, Rauner already has the power to make cuts he wants, according to political science educator and downstate-Illinois ACLU board member Randy Fritz, who recently wrote that Rauner can remove specific spending in appropriations bills through vetoes if he decides to eliminate public services he thinks are too expensive for Illinoisans to provide.

“On appropriation bills he can ‘line-item veto’ specific or general appropriation items (override-able by a 3/5 majority of both houses or they remain law as vetoed),” Fritz said. “He can ‘reduction veto’ those same line items, which can be overridden by a simple majority vote of both houses (or they become law as vetoed).

“He can also just veto an entire bill, which must be overridden by a 3/5 majority vote or the bill is dead,” Fritz added.

Rauner did recently veto all but one budget recommendation – he OK’d school funding so districts can open on time – but he never explicitly said such-and-such people don’t deserve state help. Instead of speaking in fuzzy platitudes (and discredited theories like “trickle-down economics”), a forthright Rauner would tell Illinoisans that they could no longer have energy assistance if they’re poor, programs to let infirm seniors remain in their own homes, child care, help for the mentally ill, etc.

Instead of explaining to citizens why they’ll be left out, or using his executive power, Rauner ran commercials.

Senate president John Cullerton (D-Chicago) – who concedes that the proposed state budget is $3 billion short, commented, “We find ourselves trying to work with a governor who continues to run campaigns rather than the state that elected him. He's dictating demands and threatening those who defy him.”

Concerning bargaining with AFSCME – which Rauner has unfairly depicted as overpaid, underworked or lazy – six months of negotiations seems to reveal a bad-faith approach.

As the budget stalemate continues, the state’s largest union on June 25 agreed to a 30-day contract extension to avoid a government lockout or strike by its 40,000 members.

“It allows both sides to continue to negotiate during the month of July without the threat of disruption to important public services,” said AFSCME’s statement.

Rauner is demanding cuts in wages, health coverage and pensions, privatizing some work and replacing seniority with vague pay-for-performance bonuses, which labor calls subjective, unlike basing pay hikes on objective criteria like calendars. Rauner demands less vacation and fewer holidays; the elimination of fair-share or member dues deductions; and the abolishment of the requirement to even bargain on working conditions.

Rauner would “strip away all of the standards and benefits and working conditions and pay that workers are currently experiencing,” said Chicago labor professor Bob Bruno.

Before any work stoppage, Rauner could declare an “impasse” to unilaterally impose his final offer, but that’s a legal condition that could be disputed by the union in an Unfair Labor Practice charge.

“Rauner has said that if we don’t agree to his terms, he’ll force a strike and shut down state government until we do,” said AFSCME head Roberta Lynch. “Those kinds of threats don’t serve the bargaining process or the citizens of our state well.”

Indeed, Rauner seems to cower behind the flawed notion that government can be run like a private corporation. However, government is more like a social-service non-profit, and it has many stakeholders beyond a boss, from elected representatives and workers to vendors, taxpayers and citizens who benefit from public safety and roads, parks and museums and aid.

A coward’s way out is him making threats and figuratively holding his breath until lawmakers accept blame for cutting programs, falsely declaring impasse, illegally imposing conditions, and blaming the victims, from workers to voters who elected legislators who won’t accept goofy orders from the top.

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