Illinois’ next governor may make Romney look like a saint

Does the name Bruce Rauner ring a bell? No, me neither. It turns out he’s the Republican nominee for governor in Illinois, which under normal circumstances would mean he’s a nobody. But he’s been leading incumbent Democrat Pat Quinn in polls all summer, and could actually end up as the state’s next governor.

This is a problem, because he is even more out of touch with the middle class than Mitt Romney (Rauner is a private equity near-billionaire) whose idea of transparency is to release the first two pages of his 1040 tax return for 2010-12, and nothing else. Romney at least released his full tax return for each of two years. As Think Progress points out, Rauner is also a big fan of the Cayman Islands as a tax haven, just like Romney. In fact, Rauner is invested in at least five funds there. Also like Romney, Rauner takes full advantage of the “carried interest” tax break that lets him treat his fees, which should be ordinary income taxed at 35%, as capital gains, subject only to a 15% tax rate.

Rauner’s agenda is insistent on the need to spur job growth, but somehow misses the fact that Illinois’ unemployment rate has fallen from 9.2% (seasonally adjusted) in June 2013 to 7.5% in May 2013 (the figure Rauner used) and even more since the agenda was published, to 7.1% in June, the third-largest drop in the country year-over-year. Still a full point worse than the June national unemployment rate, but a lot better than it was.

One place where Rauner is worse than Romney is the minimum wage. Romney, rather surprisingly, supports an increase in the minimum wage, though he did not specify a number. Rauner, in both December and January, called for Illinois to lower its minimum from $8.25 to $7.25, the national rate. After getting a tremendous amount of blowback, he now claims to support an increase.

His agenda says the state “should implement a phased-in minimum wage increase, coupled with workers’ compensation and lawsuit reforms to bring down employer costs.” No mention of what the rate would be, or the period over which it would be phased it. He references an op-ed he wrote in the January 9th Chicago Tribune (now only available through the Nexis subscription service), where he clearly buys into the “job-killer” meme and drops a reference to the futility of a “$20 per hour” minimum wage, for good measure. Somehow I don’t think he really supports an increase.

Not only that, but Rauner proposes turning the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, the state’s investment promotion agency, into what he calls a “public-private partnership.” He doesn’t say it, but this means there will be less public oversight into the agency’s affairs. As Good Jobs First has shown, such privatized agencies have exhibited high levels of abuse in recent years.

Rauner is a living, breathing example of how we have one tax system for the 1%, and another one for the rest of us. His flip-flop on the minimum wage is as phony as the concern he professes for the middle class. Yet there’s a very good chance he will be the next governor of Illinois.

Cross-posted from Middle Class Political Economist.

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