- Published: Monday, December 05, 2016 11:35 AM
With the State of Illinois sorely in need of a budget, it’s essential for Democrats in the legislator and Gov. Bruce Rauner to find common ground. Unfortunately, it appears he is determined to obstruct any good-government measure that isn’t attached to his political agenda.
The latest example is automatic voter registration, a sensible cost-savings measure that many Republicans backed – until the governor decided they shouldn't.
The concept of automatic voter registration is simple. Eligible voters would be automatically registered to vote when they conduct business with certain state government agencies, such as the secretary of state to renew a driver’s license. People can choose not to be registered, and there are safeguards to protect against fraud.
Essentially, automatic registration creates a convenient opt-out system for voters, rather than the more burdensome opt-in system that most states, including Illinois, currently have. This reform would have enabled us to curb redundant government paperwork, clean up the voter rolls and enable taxpayers to save time and money.
In fact, automatic registration is such a good idea in this fast-paced, technology-driven age that five other states have adopted it, most recently Republican-leaning Alaska, and more are considering it.
When my colleagues in the Illinois Legislature voted on automatic voter registration in May, it had overwhelming bipartisan support, passing 50-7 in the Senate and 86-30 in the House. It was a hopeful sign that Democrats and Republicans can come together on good, meaningful legislation.
Despite public declarations that he supported the concept of automatic voter registration, Gov. Rauner vetoed the measure in a purely political move. How do I know it was political? He asked that the effective date be delayed until just after the 2018 election – when, coincidentally, he will be running for a second term.
Fast forward to last week. Both houses took votes to override the governor’s veto. But many of the Republicans who supported the legislation just six months ago – the exact same language – voted no. (Click here for the Senate roll call. Click here for the House roll call.)
Something is seriously wrong when a wealthy governor bankrolls the Republican Party’s election campaigns — and then demands that Republican legislators switch their votes to match his preference.
Unfortunately, this was not the only time the governor has quashed good legislation that would benefit the people of Illinois. Let me tell you a little about PACE financing.
PACE stands for property assessed clean energy, and it allows homeowners to finance energy-efficiency or renewable-energy upgrades to their property – such as rooftop solar panels, new windows and furnaces. They can pay for the work over time through a fee on their property tax bill.
This concept exists in numerous states, and it can work well. There are also legitimate concerns about ways in which it could go poorly, if there are inadequate safeguards to protect consumers.
Over the last four years, I worked with opponents to the bill to tweak the proposal to alleviate their concerns. It was a lengthy, tortuous process, and I had to make concessions that I wasn’t crazy about, but that’s how the negotiating process inevitably works. Eventually, all opposition was withdrawn, and I headed to Springfield last week with every expectation that the bill would pass easily.
Instead, we learned that Gov. Rauner and his administration had incorrectly labeled the measure a property tax increase — and thus determined that he wanted it to fail. And even though this a simply wrong characterization of the legislation, there was no way to discuss this and Republican legislators took their cues accordingly. The bill failed badly on the floor.
I’m sharing these stories with you because I want you to understand some of the nuances that exist under the broad umbrella of “things in Springfield are stuck” that’s so often splashed across the headlines.
Yes, things are stuck and, yes, the consequences to the state are beyond unacceptable. But if we want to get out of it, then we need to come to the negotiating table with an open mind and an effort to reach agreement, rather than an instinctive desire to keep everything motionless.
Gov. Rauner’s behavior suggests that he’s more than happy to stay in this terrible stalemate, with the people of Illinois suffering more by the day.
And that’s where we are as a new General Assembly prepares to be seated on Jan. 11.