Illinois governor: If recreational marijuana bill passes, I'd veto it

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner stopped by the Ford County Record office in downtown Paxton for a 15-minute sit-down with Editor Will Brumleve on Thursday afternoon. The Republican governor answered several questions posed by Brumleve, ranging in topic from the state budget, pension reform and term limits to the opioid epidemic and the proposed legalization of cannabis for recreational use. Following is the full give-and-take ...

Brumleve: Is there anything you want to talk about specifically?

Rauner: The budget, that’s the big thing. We have got to get balanced budgets in Illinois; we have got to stop the deficit spending. As you guys know, we’re always running deficits and just not paying our pensions or not paying our bills, and this has been going on for as long back as I can see — it’s been decades. And even after they forced this 32 percent income tax increase over my veto last summer — I fought it like heck for three years, and they finally beat me — and even though I vetoed the spending plan we’re still running up, ya know, a $3 billion deficit even after the tax hike. We’ve got to get a balanced budget.

So I just introduced my budget proposal here just a few days ago, and I showed a way to balance the budget — truly balance it. With my proposal, we’ll have about $350 million extra in the first year to pay bills, because I want to start paying down the bill backlog. And then what I’m recommending is once the Supreme Court approves pension reform — and I’ve agreed to do a consideration model like President Cullerton, the Senate Democrat, is proposing — if we do pension reform, get it approved, then I want to take $1 billion of that and do an income tax cut and begin to roll that back down so we get our income tax back down to 3 percent where it was for years. So that’s the plan.

Brumleve: Obviously budgets are a big deal locally, too — especially with our school districts. In your budget address, you mentioned the possibility of school districts sharing the costs of their pensions. I know there is concern about that locally.

Rauner: People say, ‘Well, geez, how are we going to afford it if we’ve got to start paying for pensions.’ Local school districts determine who gets what pensions at what salary level, so then there’s an issue of aligning responsibility with authority. Other states have already done this, where they move the responsibility for paying for pensions to the folks making the decisions who determine who’s getting the benefits. It’s good governance. It’s the right thing to do, and even Democrats as well as Republicans in other states have already made that move. We should do that move.

But we don’t want to put undue burden on our local property taxes or hurt our schools by having that responsibility. So what we’ve done is several things. First of all, the state is sending more cash to our schools than ever before. We’ve added $1.2 billion more from the state annually to local schools since I became governor. That helps a tremendous amount to offset that cost. In fact, in my budget proposal, I’ve recommended that we put $350 million more annually into local schools. So that more than compensates for that pension cost. So that’s No. 1.

No. 2, I’m saying let’s get rid of the mandates on our schools. Springfield puts all kinds of unfunded mandates and restrictions about what classes to teach, and about P.E., and about competitive bidding and outside contracting — all kinds of restrictions. I’m saying, roll those back and give local control. Let the schools in Ford County decide how they want to run their schools, how they do their own curriculum, how they do their own bidding and their contracting. We can bring down costs significantly if we do that. And that, again, can more than compensate for the pension cost.

Brumleve: You mentioned the opioid epidemic in your State of the State Address. What is your plan to combat this problem?

Rauner: We’re working very hard on that. The opioid crisis has torn apart Illinois families. It’s nationwide, not just Illinois. And we have thousands of Illinoisans who are being killed by overdoses — this fentanyl being blended in with heroin and other toxic drugs. So we’ve done a bunch of things.

We’ve created a task force. We’ve brought in experts from around the state and around the nation. We’ve implemented a plan. We also have a help line now (833-2FINDHELP) that anyone can call in, whether it’s a person who’s suffering from addiction or if it’s a family member or a friend. They can call in 24/7 to the help line.

We’ve created a system now to monitor prescriptions for opioids, and we’re requiring all physicians in the state to enter into a database when they fill a prescription for opioids. So we can monitor and in real time track and catch cases where there’s ‘doctor shopping’ going on — where the same patient is going to different doctors, or where a doctor is prescribing a lot of them and where they’re, in fact, supplying drugs into the illegal market.

We are also making sure that Naloxone is available in every community basically for free. We’re supplying it and making it available not only through local law enforcement but local health care and community leaders. That’s a life-saving nasal spray to somebody who’s suffering from an overdose. It’s available now in local fire departments, local police departments, local community offices and hospitals. We’re trying to make sure that Naloxone is available everywhere, in every community.

Brumleve: You mentioned some property tax relief in your State of the State Address, too. We have ongoing controversy here about property taxes. But how can you accomplish that.

Rauner: It’s a huge issue. It’s the No. 1 tax problem. Our property tax is the highest in the United States. We’re basically tied up there with New Jersey for the worst property taxes. The way to fix that is to get local control. Again, this is an issue of getting Springfield off the backs of local homeowners and small business owners.

How do we do that? For example, Illinois, one of the reasons we have high property taxes, is we have 7,000 units of local government. We have abatement districts and water-reclamation districts. If you look at your property taxes, your bill probably has seven entities. I think ours — we live in Springfield but we still own our home up north; I grew up in Lake County — but I think there are 16 entities that are on our property tax bill. I’m saying, make it real easy for a homeowner to get together with fellow homeowners and do a simple voter referendum and say, ‘Let’s consolidate these three and collapse them, share services and get rid of the overhead, get rid of the taxing body.’ We have about double the number of local taxing bodies as most states. So that’s No. 1. And do it through local control.

Also, I’m recommending local control of the property tax levy itself. What if we give residents the ability — not politicians, but residents — the ability to say, ‘OK, our property tax levy in this town is $10 million. What if we want to build a new school? We’ll vote to increase (the levy) by 10 percent over three years or whatever. Fine.’ But what if we say, ‘Our property taxes are unaffordable; we’ve got to bring them down. We’ll vote through a simple referendum to bring down our property tax levy by 5 percent.’

That’s not really possible in Illinois today. Let local residents have the ability, through a simple voter referendum, to determine their overall levy, cap it, or reduce it, or put it where they want. That will be transformative in putting pressure on the local bureaucrats to change the system.

So we need local control of the levy, local control of consolidation. But then again, like I said for schools, let’s give local control of competitive bidding for when construction projects go on, or for outside contracting of government services. Let’s get rid of the mandates, get local control, and local homeowners will help drive the cost of local government down.

Brumleve: What are your thoughts on term limits?

Rauner: I’m a big believer. I think that’s the No. 1 change we can make in the state of Illinois — to get rid of this culture of self-dealing and corruption. Four out of my nine predecessors went to prison. It’s amazing. And (Speaker of the House Mike) Madigan’s been there since 1971. He’s become wealthy. You’d think he’s just a politician; he makes $100,000 a year or whatever. Well, how can he get rich? He’s become a multi-millionaire, very wealthy, because he has a property tax appeal law firm. He’s made himself rich, but in his politician position he raises, he forces property taxes up through his various policies and then he gets rich on the side charging business owners to come to him to get their property taxes reduced. He’s become a super-millionaire, a mega-millionaire. This is corruption at its core. And he’s been there since 1971.

I’ve said term limits can help clean it up. It will force people to not go into office to be there forever and get rich. It will help ensure people are there for the right reasons, to be public servants. I don’t take salary or pension; I’m a volunteer. But I’ve said, let’s have term limits in every office. And if I’m fortunate enough to be able to serve the people for a second term, two terms is it. Eight years is plenty of time. And I’ve said let’s have a limit of eight years for statewide officials, 10 years for legislators — that’s plenty of time to be a public servant. And anyone who wants to stay in office can run for a different office. Don’t get locked into one where you’ve got that power of incumbency.

I helped lead the effort four years ago to collect 500,000 signatures to get term limits on the ballot. We got the signatures. We actually collected almost 600,000 signatures. And then Madigan sued us. He elects our state judges. They beat us. The judges ruled that we couldn’t put term limits on the ballot through a voter referenda process, which I think is preposterous. But the judges ruled that the term limits could be done if the Legislature voted to put them on the ballot.

So I’m asking every voter in the state of Illinois — whether you’re a Democrat or Republican doesn’t matter — to ask the candidate who’s running for the House of Representatives in Springfield: ‘Will you promise to vote to put term limits on the ballot?’ I’m asking them to sign a pledge right in front of you guys in the media — and if they won’t sign a pledge, don’t vote for them, because that’s proof that they’re part of the system and that they’re not really reformers. Let’s get reformers, Republicans and Democrats, in there, and we’ll change the system. So that’s our big push for term limits this session.

Brumleve: Speaking of reform, there’s been a lot of talk about the legalization of recreational marijuana. Do you have any opinion on where that should go?

Rauner: It’s a big controversy. There are some Republicans who support it; some Democrats do; some don’t.

Here’s my view. Medical marijuana was approved before I became governor. We’re monitoring that to see how it works, and I think there are some appropriate medical uses for that and we’re monitoring it. Recreational marijuana, just for personal use, I think is a huge experiment. We don’t know. And the drug has changed — marijuana has changed a tremendous amount over the last 30-40 years. It’s very, very potent. We don’t know how it impacts the developing brain. We don’t know what it does to pregnant women. We don’t know a lot of things.

Colorado has legalized it. California just legalized it. And what I’ve recommended is, ‘Let’s not legalize it in Illinois now. Let’s watch what’s happening in these other states and learn.’ Even the Democratic governor of Colorado, even he’s come out in the press and said, ‘There’s a lot of wild stuff going on in Colorado; there’s addiction problems; there’s DUI problems; there’s crime problems.’ He even said, ‘Other states ought to watch what’s happening here before you move.’ So I’ve said, ‘Let’s not legalize it here; let’s just watch and learn before we do a big experiment on the people of Illinois.’

Brumleve: If a bill to legalize recreational marijuana got passed by the Legislature, would you veto it?

Rauner: Right now, I would, yeah. I want to see what’s happening and what happens in other states before I would support it.

Location (3):Local, Paxton, Ford County


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