Gov. Bruce Rauner (AP)
By Doug Finke
State Capitol Bureau
Posted Sep. 20, 2016 at 6:54 am Updated Sep 20, 2016 at 10:37 PM
Gov. Bruce Rauner Tuesday issued an executive order creating a bicentennial commission and office to prepare for the state’s 200-year celebration in 2018.
Rauner announced creation of the Governor’s Office of the Illinois Bicentennial during a Facebook Live session in which he answered questions from the public. Rauner said it was the first of what will be regular sessions on the social media site to answer voters' questions.
The first of the questions that had been screened by his office was posed by Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, who wanted to know what the Republican governor was doing to prepare for the bicentennial. It provided Rauner with the perfect opportunity to announce formation of the new office and a newly reconstituted bicentennial commission.
“We’re going to do a very big celebration of our 200th anniversary,” Rauner said. “The role of the commission is to develop the ideas and the recommendations for how to best celebrate this important milestone in our state’s history.”
Rauner named Stuart Layne as executive director of the bicentennial office. Layne previously worked as sales manager for WBBM-FM in Chicago and was vice president of sales and marketing for the Seattle Mariners and Boston Celtics.
The administration said Layne will be paid $142,000 a year through the end of December 2018 from a pool of funds from various state agencies involved in bicentennial planning. Layne will be paid for the next five months through an intergovernmental agreement between the governor’s office and the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, after which he will transfer to another agency to cover his salary.
The Bicentennial Commission will have 51 members, 40 of whom will be appointed by Rauner. The four legislative leaders will each get one appointment, as will Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Treasurer Mike Frerichs, Comptroller Leslie Munger, Secretary of State Jesse White and Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder will also each get one appointment.
“We want leaders from all over the state coming up with their ideas and recommendations about how we can best celebrate,” Rauner said.
Not much time
The new commission will replace a 77-member commission created by then-Gov. Pat Quinn two years ago. In a recent column, Peoria Journal-Star columnist Phil Luciano documented how the Quinn commission has basically sputtered ever since it was formed.
The new commission will have its work cut out for it. Illinois joined the union as a state on Dec. 3, 1818. That will give the commission less than 16 months to plan celebrations if they are to start early in 2018.
Indiana is in the middle of celebrating its bicentennial. Then-Gov. Mitch Daniels named its bicentennial commission in December 2011.
“We’ve been holding planning meetings ever since then,” said commission spokeswoman Valeri Beaman. “Our commission members have been working for five years.”
In addition to the commission itself in Indiana, there are coordinators in each county for bicentennial events, she said. Funding for the celebration is a mix of both state funds and sponsored events. All of the big events are sponsored, she said.
Events actually kicked off on Dec. 11, 2015, the 199th anniversary of Indiana’s statehood. They’ve been going on ever since and will culminate on statehood day this year.
Many of the other questions taken by Rauner Tuesday allowed him to retread his well-worn talking points on everything from the need to reform state government to efforts to reduce Illinois' prison population. At the beginning, Rauner said more than 100 questions were submitted since he announced on Facebook last week that he would be answering questions. He answered eight of them during his 30-minute live session.
Rauner said he was assured by Democrats that pension reform “would be front and center” as part of renewed, post-election budget discussions. Rauner said he thinks the issue can be dealt with this winter.
He again said benefits already earned by workers should be protected, but added that they should be offered more affordable choices in the future. Rauner said he supports a plan advanced by Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, that would make workers choose between receiving annual increases in pension benefits or having future pay raises be covered by pensions.
“That will save billions. It will help us balance our state budget for the first time in decades,” he said. “It will free up money that we can put into our priorities in schools and in human services.”
Rauner again called for lawmakers to approve proposed constitutional amendments to impose term limits and change the way legislative boundaries are drawn to keep lawmakers out of the process.
“Nothing would change the performance and the culture in our state government faster than term limits and also redistricting reform,” Rauner said. “If the General Assembly would put those on the ballot … immediately, right today, many elected officials would look and see 'Wow, the game is kind of over.' I think you’d see a number of people retire or resign soon.”
Those issues are part of a lengthy agenda of things Rauner wants the General Assembly to tackle after the Nov. 8 elections. That includes passing a balanced budget to replace the stopgap measure that expires Dec. 31. Rauner said he's “cautiously optimistic” a balanced budget will be approved. He repeated, though, that he won’t entertain talk of higher taxes unless his reform measures are approved.
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