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One Hundred Days Of Rauner

Rachel Otwell
Bruce Rauner has promoted a "turnaround agenda" during his first 100 days in office.

Bruce Rauner has served his first 100 days as Illinois' governor. It's the first time the private equity investor has held elected office. He came in with big ideas, and big challenges.

There's no official significance behind a governor's first 100 days, but it's often used as the yard stick to gauge how well a new politician is doing.

Historians seem to trace it back to Franklin Roosevelt craftily using his first 100 days as president to usher in his New Deal. FDR was trying to bring the United States out of the Great Depression.

Gov. Bruce Rauner says he's trying to bring Illinois out of what he says is a "death spiral" with his version of a New Deal--his so-called "Turnaround Agenda."

"We picked out the most critical things to get a turnaround," Rauner said on Fox Chicago. "I've done many turnarounds in my life and what you do is you go big, bold, hard early. You don't wait and you don't just nibble around the edges. And that's what we're doing. We're hitting the biggest, most important things now."

Rauner has made similar pronouncements all over the state.

He went to Schaumburg to try to get the state's credit union league on board. He talked turnaround to a local chamber of commerce in Olney. He visited the pork-processing plant in Beardstown to sing its praises. He's visited schools; he's stopped by trucking facilities. All asking for folks to get on board.

"The challenge is we've got to get the power away from the Springfield special interest groups and empower local voters to get control of their own tax burden, their own schools, their local economies," Rauner said in Peoria. "That's what our turnaround agenda is about."

Specifically, the agenda calls for a local property tax freeze, bringing down businesses' costs by overhauling workers' compensation and unemployment insurance, and letting communities file for bankruptcy. Rauner also wants to forbid trial lawyers from contributing to judicial campaigns, reduce state employees' pension benefits, and limit legislators' terms.

He's also seeking to diminish the power of organized labor. Rauner filed a lawsuit over union dues, and he wants local right-to-work zones.

That's raised the ire of an early political foe: unions.

"Let's not kid ourselves. You know, the governor, his intent is to weaken unions and to attempt to wipe us out entirely," said Michael Carrigan, the head of the AFL-CIO.

So far, that debate has all taken place outside of the legislature; there have been no actual votes.

While FDR was credited as a whiz for getting quick Congressional approval on The New Deal, none of Rauner's Turnaround Agenda has actually been introduced to the Legislature. It may be that the administration doesn't want to see its platform sink.

The Republican will have to get the General Assembly's Democratic supermajorities to go along, and many Republicans will surely be wary to go along too.

In fact, Rauner has signed only three bills into law so far.

One was a holdover from last year's General Assembly. The other is a pair of bills to fix a budget mess Rauner inherited. His predecessor, Pat Quinn, and fellow Democrats had passed an out-of-balance budget.

Though Rauner admits reaching an agreement took longer than expected, it was his first major legislative victory, and a bipartisan one.

But that victory quickly turned into a backlash.

"Trust is a big thing and it is very difficult to continue negotiations with someone that you don't believe is working in full faith," said Rep. Pamela Reaves-Harris, a Chicago Democrat, when asked whether trust is broken.

She says the budget fix was a hard vote in the first place because it cut state services. She was taken aback when Rauner went ahead and unexpectedly cut more.

Rauner slashed $26 million in grants for everything from after-school programs to centers for children with autism to a hotline to help smokers quit.

Despite the misunderstanding, Reaves-Harris says she's willing to give Rauner a break. For one, Rauner has made a point to meet with legislators and reached out to Reaves-Harris and other members of the black caucus to try to smooth things over. Plus, like Rauner, she's new to state government.

"So I'm learning as I go along. This process is very difficult," she said. "You always have opposites sides, two sides of the story. And so when you're trying to come to a compromise, that can be very difficult."

But not for long. She says the time for giving the governor the benefit of the doubt will run out.

She says her community can't afford to give Rauner unlimited time to make good on his promise of not just making Illinois competitive, but also being compassionate.

While it's still early in the session, and despite the lack of votes, Rauner has made other changes in his first 100 days.

He's hired new advisers. He's paying some of them six-figure salaries, even as he denounces average state workers' pay as too high.

He's appointed new agency directors. Notably, that includes placing chater-school advocates into education posts.

He's issued executive orders that freeze what he terms "non-essential" spending and forbid state employees from going on to lobbying jobs for at least one year.

He's formed a commission that seeks to reduce the prison population by 25 percent.

And if that's not enough, Rep. Chad Hays, a Republican from Danville, says Rauner has already done something remarkable.

"There's no denying that the tone of the conversation has changed, and the notion that we can continue to borrow money and spend money that we don't have is, in the big picture, that's a thing of the past," Hays said. "And I think that's something that's very very healthy. Anybody around the Capitol would probably agree. Regardless of what they think of the governor's ideas specifically, that there is a new day here and a tone around the building."

Whether that will lead to a grand compromise or a giant showdown will become apparent in coming weeks.

Session is scheduled to end by May 31, and by then, he's expected to have an agreement on the budget--despite facing a $6 billion gap. As of now, the governor's budget plan centers on cuts.

Most Democrats say Illinois can't get by on cuts alone. They want more revenue. But Rauner says he'll only consider taxes if his Turnaround Agenda is passed.

While much is made of the first 100 days, it's this next part of the session that will really be a test of Rauner's self-proclaimed negotiating and leadership skills.