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Cullerton talks budget numbers, override at City Club (VIDEO)

jjc cityclub070617Senate President John Cullerton spoke at the City Club's breakfast this morning. Here are his prepared remarks, after which he answered reporters' questions:

Good morning.

Thank you for the opportunity to be here. I always look forward to talking to this group.

I’m pleased to finally have something to talk about in regards to our budget.

But before I put everyone to sleep with a long discussion of budget numbers, I want to begin with some audience participation.

If you drove here this morning or have driven anywhere recently, raise your hand if you wore your seatbelt.

Go ahead. Hold those hands up high; I need to be able to see them to count.

Good. It looks like just about everyone did.

Ok, if we were suddenly transported back to the 1980’s, you would have seen much different results. Only about 15 percent of you would have raised your hands.

Buckling up was not routine.

I know this because I sponsored the law that first required seatbelt use in Illinois.

And let me tell you, that wasn’t an easy task.

I was trying to get people to vote for something that told 85 percent of their constituents to change their daily behavior.

That kind of change isn’t easy.

In my experience, here’s how you do it:

You begin with a small step forward.

And then, when the world doesn’t end, you recognize success, build your base of supporters and keep stepping forward to accomplish your broader goals.

Looking back, that initial seatbelt law seems watered-down by what we are all accustomed to today. A cop couldn’t even stop you for not wearing your seatbelt.

But it worked to move the ball forward.

Today, nearly 90 percent (88.8 percent) of Illinois adults say they always use a seatbelt when driving or riding in a vehicle.

Illinois was recently ranked the top state in the nation for road safety by the national safety council, in part because of our seatbelt laws and widespread use.

My point in telling this story is to emphasize the role of compromise and negotiation in bringing about change and moving issues forward.

Look, I could have stomped my feet back in the 1980’s and demanded mandatory seatbelt enforcement for the front and back seat or I would never vote for a state budget or anything else.

I can tell you what would have happened: nothing.

Obviously, the governor of Illinois has more influence and should be able to get things done faster than some rank-and-file lawmaker.

But governors aren’t dictators.

They need to be able to negotiate and compromise, too.

Ok, so that brings me to the bipartisan balanced budget the senate just approved and backed up with an override of the governor’s veto, a budget that hopefully the house will be enacting as law later today with a similar override.

Let’s go ahead and get one thing out of the way.

Yes. There’s a tax increase in it. Or as I like to call it, a partial reinstatement of the previous tax rates.

The personal income tax goes to 4.95 percent from 3.75 percent.

That’s a 1.2 percentage point increase if you voted for it, it’s Mike Madigan’s permanent 32 percent tax increase if you’re Governor Rauner.

Remember, the tax rate was 5 percent from 2011 to 2015. This is lower.

It’s also lower than just about every state around us, nearly all of which have graduated tax brackets.

I’m pretty sure I’m safe in saying that everyone in this room would be paying rates well in excess of 4.95 percent.

Someone making $50,000 pays a 6.27 percent income tax rate in Wisconsin. In Iowa, that person pays 7.92 percent.

But there’s a lot more than a tax rate to our balanced budget.

I don’t usually write press releases for Bruce Rauner, but let me offer up a couple possible headlines of what he could be doing and saying rather than vetoing balanced budgets:

Budget deal cuts state spending by $3 billion – Rauner works Democrats for biggest budget cut in recent history.

Rauner-led pension reforms could save taxpayers $1.5 billion – 401k-style system to get test run.

Those could both be true.

Those are also both examples of how Rauner and the republicans shaped the budget that is on the verge of finally becoming law.

There are nearly $3 billion in cuts and savings in this plan. They are there because Republicans brought them to the table and convinced Democrats they were a good idea.

Those cuts don’t happen without republican participation.

Same thing with the pension reforms, which many of you know I’ve been involved with in recent years.

The governor gets all of the pension reforms that he and the republicans wanted. In fact, the part that I wanted got taken out. It’s now just the Republican part.

But the governor vetoed it.

And then we overrode his veto to make sure the pension changes he wants become law. I voted for it, twice on Tuesday, even though the part I wanted was removed.

My point is, this budget was shaped – and supported – by Republicans.

It contains win after win for the Rauner administration if it would choose to recognize those wins.

There’s all kinds of stuff he could cite as progress that happened only because he is the governor.

I recognize that people are sick and tired of the political finger pointing. I get it. I want results, too.

But I’m left to deal with a governor who filed veto messages that read like campaign attack ad scripts.

And this is a governor who vanished from public view for the better part of the last two weeks, just as he has every may when a budget deadline approaches.

Whenever it’s crunch time, he disappears only to emerge after the deadline with a new set of campaign ads attacking Democrats.

That means he spends those crucial times working on attack ads rather than doing his job.

Given his recent disappearance, I expect a new round of ads to start tonight if they haven’t already.

Now, I get off easy in this from a political perspective.

Ninety-nine percent of those ads aren’t directed at me. They’re directed at Mike Madigan.

And I’m not here to be a Madigan apologist.

Trust me; the speaker can sometimes be difficult to work with.

But the governor has only made the situation worse.

Look at it this way, if I spent $10 million calling the City Club a bunch of crooks, I think our relationship would suffer. You would probably stop asking me to come speak here.

What’s really troublesome is that I know the governor has the ability to compromise. I know he can see the big picture.

We all saw it just a couple weeks ago when he signed an anti-gun violence law that Republicans and Democrats put together.

Here’s part of what Governor Rauner said in signing the law:

“This was not easy legislation to pass. This took a lot of work for many months by many people. Many compromises, many new ideas needed to be discussed and debated.

It shows what we can do when we put our minds to it and decide to work together to solve problems and take a step forward.

This is not an answer. This is a step in the right direction.”

That’s Governor Rauner speaking.

I couldn’t agree with him more.

That wasn’t easy legislation. There were Senate Democrats who felt the final product was watered down. We probably had the votes to try to jam additional provisions down the governor’s throat.

But we didn’t do that.

We didn’t do that because we recognized the importance of coming together on this issue.

And to the governor’s credit, he too wanted to be part of addressing the issue of gun violence. And he wanted to do it in a bipartisan fashion.

What I don’t understand is why the governor doesn’t see the same opportunities in the budget proposals.

There are cuts and reforms and changes that he could and should take credit for.

But he won’t.

It’s really frustrating.

We essentially wasted 2 ½ years fighting over the state budget only to now be on the verge of the General Assembly taking control of the situation and forcing a budget on the state because the governor will not engage.

There’s a cost that comes with that delay, and it’s not just the threat of “junk” status from Wall Street.

We’ve missed out on billions of dollars in revenue that could have paid our bills. Instead, they got dumped onto the pile of IOUs and are racking up interest.

We could have prevented the Medicaid lawsuit.

We could have kept the Wells Center in Jacksonville, Illinois open to provide rehab services to an area in the midst of a heroin epidemic.

The list of victims goes on and on.

I have my regrets in all of this.

In retrospect, I should have forced action sooner.

When Republican leader Christine Radogno and I unveiled the Senate’s grand bargain in early January, our hope was to spur quick, bipartisan action.

Leader Radogno, now former leader Radogno, will never get the credit she deserves for her work behind the scenes to push us to a budget. The Senate’s grand bargain effort was her idea. She came to me and said: let’s see if we can do this.

She stood up to the well-funded right wing of the Republican Party and openly talked about the need to raise the tax rate to balance the budget.

If it wasn’t for her, there never would have been the leaders' meetings that led to the house vote for the balanced budget.

As I said, it’s a budget that has been shaped by input from Republicans. It would look a lot different if it had been Democrats only.

If the house can again muster the votes for an override later today, this specific budget crisis will finally be over, but not our need to compromise and work together.

A school funding overhaul still waits to be sent to the governor’s desk.

I’d like to think Governor Rauner would see the opportunities it provides to honor his promise to change our worst-in-the-nation system.

Despite all the political rhetoric and theatrics, I remain optimistic that he will get to the place where he signs it. I believe he does want to improve education.

I’m optimistic because I heard what the governor said in signing the anti-gun violence law. I know that he can see the opportunities for progress when he chooses to.

And I’m also optimistic because I’m pretty sure the governor wears his seatbelt.

Thank you again for the invitation to speak here this morning.