Gov. Bruce Rauner stopped at The Journal-News office in Hillsboro on Friday, Feb. 9, on a trip downstate and through newspaper offices in Champaign and Decatur.
While at The Journal-News, the governor answered questions about legislation affecting the Coffeen Power Station, infrastructure spending, state pensions and legalized marijuana.
First he met Grace Herschelman, daughter of newspaper editor Mary Herschelman and sports editor Kyle Herschelman, who was diagnosed with Infantile Neuroaxonal Dystrophy (INAD) in November 2014.
"Since then, the people in this county have raised almost $200,000 for research at Washington University in St. Louis," Mary Herschelman told the governor, presenting him with a purple "Beat INAD" T-shirt.
"We absolutely need to have a big infrastructure bill," the governor said, asking for legislation that would improve the state's transportation. "We are the crossroads of the country, and I've been advocating that for a while."
The major hurdle, according to the governor, is first balancing the state's budget, then using debt to finance the bill.
"We could borrow. Infrastructure is one responsible use for debt," the governor said, specifically citing gaming as a possible funding mechanism. "Frankly, I'm open to other sources of revenue."
Off the table, though, is a fuel tax increase.
"We should not be talking about tax hikes until we show fiscal discipline," he added.
As pension obligations continue to increase, the governor advocated a "consideration model" to help offset those future expenses.
"It is taking more and more resources to fund our pension obligation," Rauner said. "This year is $600 million more than last year. We can't change benefits that we've promised but we can offer choices that are more affordable. [Senate President John] Cullerton has proposed a consideration model that I agree with, but [House Speaker Michael] Madigan has been unwilling to move on it."
On proposed legislation that would shift responsibility for the competitive capacity power auction from the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) to the Illinois Power Agency, leveling the field for power plants like Coffeen, the governor said he was an advocate "for trying to keep as many energy options open" as possible.
Rauner said the state is doing a good job of managing medical marijuana, but regarding legalizing the use of recreational marijuana, "We've got to be careful."
He pointed out that the governor of Colorado, where recreational use is already legal, recommends other states "slow down" moving that direction.
"We need to look at areas like Colorado and see what the impact has been," the governor said. "Let's study this."