Lose One for the Gipper: IL Gov Candidate Invokes Reagan in Threat to Shut Down State Government

“These aren’t air quotes. This is how many public employees I want Illinois to have.”

A video has surfaced of Illinois Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner promising members of the Tazewell County GOP that he will shut down the state government and conduct a mass firing of public workers if elected. The comments came during a dinner held by the organization.  

Rauner suggests the move would help the state deal with underfunded pensions.  In the speech, Rauner evokes the anti-union spirit of the Gipper:

“We may have to go through rough times. We may have to do what Ronald Reagan did with the air traffic controllers. Sort of have to do a do-over and shut things down for a little while. That’s what we’re gonna do.”

The video was circulated by the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

Pensions are a central theme of the election.  Illinois faces an estimated 30-year, $100 billion pension shortfall, but Rauner’s opponents note that the state is spending heartily on tax cuts and incentives for corporations that could be use to remedy the situation:

Critics of Illinois’ recent move to slash pension benefits have pointed to the state’s spending on tax cuts and subsidies as proof Illinois has plenty of money to address its pension obligations. For example, a New York Times analysis indicated, Illinois currently spends roughly $1.5 billion every year on taxpayer subsidies to corporations. Additionally, the state in 2011 passed a corporate tax cut bill that is estimated to cost $371 million a year. That bill was designed to award tax breaks to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

Along with mass firings and government shutdowns, Rauner has discussed doing away with public employee pensions entirely and moving toward 401(k)-style accounts.  As David Sirota explains, this oft-proposed method has resulted in negative outcomes for both states and workers:

The Associated Press reported recently those defined contribution systems tend to generate large fees for financial firms. Union-affiliated groups have argued states that have converted their plans to 401(k)s have ended up losing taxpayers’ money rather than cutting costs. Additionally, a Republican legislator in Alaska recently cited exploding pension costs as proof his state’s 2006 transition to a 401(k) system was a mistake.

Polling from late July shows Rauner with a three-point lead over incumbent Pat Quinn.  Following the release of the Tazewell video, another video surfaced in which Rauner makes similar comments.  In that speech, from a Cumberland County Lincoln Day event, Rauner says, “I may have to take a strike and shut down the government for a few weeks and kinda redo everybody’s contract. That’s a possibility…I will do it proudly.”

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Steve Cooper
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