SPRINGFIELD — In his final time taking questions from the media, Gov. Bruce Rauner said Tuesday his top achievement in office was improving K-12 education.
During the lengthy session with reporters, Rauner also said he was frustrated he could not get stronger ethics regulations in place for the Legislature and that his parting recommendations to lawmakers will be to enact the “turnaround agenda” that he proposed at the outset of his term.
Rauner called Tuesday’s news conference to discuss the report he and other governors are required to submit to the General Assembly at the end of their terms. Rauner said it has been nearly 20 years since a governor complied with that provision of the Illinois Constitution.
The report is supposed to include accomplishments of the administration, and Rauner placed improvements to K-12 education at the top.
“Our greatest progress has been in education,” Rauner said. “That’s one of the primary reasons I ran for governor, to try to take steps to give us the best education system in the world.”
Rauner specifically cited education funding reform, improved early childhood education programs and a program to provide scholarships for low-income students to attend private and parochial schools as the high points of the education changes.
Rauner has been criticized for taking credit for funding reform when he vetoed early versions of the bill. However, he did eventually sign a version when it became apparent lawmakers would override his veto.
Rauner said he hopes lawmakers now turn their attention to making improvements to higher education. The state’s colleges and universities took major hits during the budget impasse.
The governor claimed credit for economic growth, “but much work needs to be done,” he said. Rauner said his administration cut red tape and lowered some fees to help spur economic development.
Although he did not mention it initially, Rauner said the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Janus case, which eliminated fair share fees for people who do not want to belong to public employee unions, ranked “very, very high” on the administration’s list of accomplishments. The Rauner administration brought the initial lawsuit challenging the fees, but the courts said Rauner didn’t have standing to pursue the lawsuit.
Rauner said he had “frustrations on the political and ethics side.” That includes a failure to enact term limits on state officials and draw political maps free from the influence of lawmakers. He also expressed frustration that he could not get a rule enacted to prohibit lawmakers from doing property tax appeals work. Rauner said the work represents a clear conflict of interest.
“I hope and am strongly encouraging members of the General Assembly to stand up to the leaders in their caucus and pass legislation to support term limits, fair maps and elimination of property tax appeals work by legislators,” Rauner said.
Part of the report — which won’t be delivered to the General Assembly until Wednesday — will include Rauner’s recommendations for the future. He said he will resubmit the components of this turnaround agenda, which was almost totally rejected by the Democratic-controlled House and Senate.
“The folks that created the massive problems in our state certainly are resistive to change,” Rauner said when asked why he’s submitting them again. “That doesn’t mean that our recommendations are somehow wrong or flawed or incorrect.”
Asked if he would change his approach if he had the last four years to do over, Rauner skirted the question.
“That’s such a long topic. I’ll go have a beer with you one of these nights and talk about it,” Rauner said to the reporter.
Rauner declined to say who he thinks should lead the Republican Party in the future, although he said whoever leads it should have a “big tent” philosophy of inclusion rather than exclusion.
Rauner also said he’s not sure if future political office lies in his future. For now, he said, he’s going to spend time with friends and family who have taken a back seat the last six years.