Saturday, January 10, 2015

What Illinois business wants in Rauner's inaugural address

What Illinois business wants in Rauner's inaugural address

Comments Email Print
When Bruce Rauner gives his inaugural address on Jan. 12, business leaders across Illinois will be listening as closely as anybody.
Business has a lot invested in the governor-elect, a former private-equity executive who spent his entire career in corporate Chicago. His campaign drew widespread support from the business community, including some who lean left politically. Seeing him as one of their own, they expect he'll defend their interests. And they believe his business and financial skills are exactly what's needed to save Illinois from fiscal collapse.
Issues specific and general will be on their minds as he speaks. They're worried about state finances and ethics in government. They're also concerned about income tax rates, workers' compensation rules and a potential increase in the state minimum wage.
Sure, many would like Rauner to lighten the tax load and loosen nettlesome regulations that increase the cost of doing business in Illinois. But they're also concerned about such intangibles as the state's reputation and its future as an attractive place to invest.
So what do they want to hear in that address? The word that kept coming up in my conversations with business leaders is “confidence.”
“The most important thing is that he instills confidence in his leadership,” says Andrew McKenna, chairman of Oak Brook-based McDonald's.
Easier said than done. To win confidence, he'll have to pull off a balancing act of sorts. He needs to provide just enough specifics on his policy agenda to assure business leaders that he shares their priorities. And he needs to show the gumption to fight for his proposals. At the same time, he needs to acknowledge political realities in Springfield by signaling a willingness to work with those who have the power to block his agenda.
Howard Tullman, a longtime entrepreneur and investor who also is CEO of Chicago technology startup hub 1871, recommends that Rauner strike an aggressive tone in some areas while treading lightly in others.
For example, he'd like to hear a strong statement on rationalizing a sprawling state bureaucracy. Unlike career politicians, he notes, Rauner has both the expertise and the political wiggle room to rethink state operations from a business perspective. Tullman hopes for bold plans to cut staff levels and automate government functions. “I hope he throws down the gauntlet,” Tullman says. “I think that would be a huge confidence-builder for business.”
At the same time, he warns against a go-it-alone approach, noting Rauner's lack of government experience and the fact that governors can't order people around as CEOs can. “If he tries to do it top-down, it's not going to work.”
Although an inauguration speech isn't the forum for detailed policy proposals, Rauner will need to address a few specific business concerns. The first is Illinois' massive pension funding shortfall (see the PDF), the single biggest worry for those considering investing here.
Rauner should exude determination to “get the pension problem under control so it doesn't become the monster that swallows Illinois,” says Gregory Baise, CEO of the Illinois Manufacturers' Association. Baise says business leaders also want Rauner to hold his administration to the “highest ethical standard.”
Rob Karr, CEO of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, says his members are looking to hear support for workers' compensation reforms and a commitment to stabilizing taxes and spending. On the minimum wage, business will listen for assurances that Rauner won't support an increase without meaningful reductions in regulatory burdens. More broadly, Karr says, “we're looking for a vision that restores optimism, confidence and stability to the state.”
Gov.-elect Rauner, the floor is yours.

Total Pageviews


Blog Archive