WOODSTOCK – Gov. Bruce Rauner urged local support for his turnaround agenda in McHenry County on Wednesday ahead of what he said would be an aggressive effort to get support from state lawmakers.
Speaking to a crowd of about 20 McHenry County Board members, municipal leaders and others at the Woodstock Opera House, Rauner stressed the need for local control over right-to-work and prevailing wage issues. He followed his Woodstock visit with a trip to Johnsburg High School.
“We need to change direction,” Rauner said. “That’s the reason I decided to run for governor, to help us change the direction of the state. We can thrive. We can thrive if we free up our economy to compete and we get a control on our bureaucracy costs.”
Rauner outlined his plan to create “employee empowerment zones” across the state where local governments or voters could decide whether workers in their communities should be mandated to join a union. He said allowing communities to become right-to-work would move Illinois to a list of states where companies would consider relocating, speculating dozens of employers would come to the state in the next four years.
“We don’t need the whole state to go right-to-work,” Rauner said. “But if a few counties and a few municipalities choose that for themselves, that gets us on the list.”
But Rauner’s idea has been met with some resistance, including an opinion from Democratic Attorney General Lisa Madigan that these empowerment zones are currently not permissible. They could be, Rauner contended, if state legislators pass a law allowing it.
The likelihood of a Democratic-dominated legislature passing such a law seems slim to County Board Chairman Joe Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake. He does, however, think the measures would attract businesses and residents to the county, which the latest census data shows lost nearly 1,500 residents from 2010 to 2014.
“As the only collar county who’s lost population in the last four years and continues to lose population, it’s something that we really need to be cognizant of,” Gottemoller said. “How are we going to regrow our economy?”
Rauner said he would like his reform agenda – which also includes a property tax freeze – to pass through the state legislature in the next 90 days. It could have an effect on the coming budget, he said, which runs from July 1, 2015, to June 30, 2016.
In the meantime, he’s asked local governments to adopt resolutions supporting his turnaround agenda. The Woodstock City Council tabled such a resolution Tuesday following a five-hour-long meeting rife with consternation. The McHenry County Board will take up the resolution during its meeting Thursday.
County Board member Nick Provenzano, a McHenry Republican, said he plans to support that resolution because of the right-to-work issue, but also because of the potential changes to prevailing wage. He said the county wastes exorbitant amounts of money by having to pay more for government contracts because of state law that requires governments to pay a prevailing wage to complete public works projects.
“All we’re asking for is to have the handcuffs taken off so that we can negotiate on behalf of the taxpayer as if we were a private entity,” Provenzano said. “Prevailing wage is also another issue. There’s no reason we should pay 20 to 30 percent more to cut the grass in front of the courthouse than we do to cut the grass in front of the movie theater.”