Edgar: Now not time for agenda

Edgar: Now not time for agenda

CHAMPAIGN — Gov. Bruce Rauner should focus on the state budget and wait until later to address his ambitious "turnaround agenda," former Gov. Jim Edgar said Thursday.

Edgar made his remarks after completing a five-day meeting of the Edgar Fellows program, a conference for young Illinois political leaders held annually on the University of Illinois campus. Among this year's speakers were Rauner, House Speaker Michael Madigan, former U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Ann Burke, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Bill Daley, a former chief of staff to President Obama.

"He comes from a different background than I do. But I just think it's very important for a governor, you've got to have a good budget and you need it in place," Edgar told reporters. "You can try to compromise on some issues — and I think there are certain things (Democrats in the Legislature) might give him — but some of the things he's asking for, they're not going to give him. They're just not going to give him."

Passage of a state budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 appears nowhere in sight as the Democratic-dominated Legislature and the first-year Republican governor have been unable to agree on a spending plan or on any of the five items Rauner has insisted should be negotiated with the budget.

"But I come at it from a little different background. I come at it as someone who came out of state government, and I'm still concerned about the state budget and having a good fiscal foundation," Edgar said. "(Rauner) comes out of the business world and he's very worried about some of these economic issues. He's the governor. I'm not going to argue with him."

But Edgar acknowledged that Democrats have a stronger bargaining position.

"Truthfully the Democrats can walk away a lot easier than he can. They're not the governor," he said. "I told him, they've proven they walked away before. It's not like they lay awake at night wondering if everything is working 100 percent. Particularly now that we have a Republican governor, they probably even worry less."

Edgar said that the Democratic majority isn't going to compromise on term limits, redistricting reforms and probably not on workers'-compensation system changes.

"Some of the things he wants on workers' comp, based off of what union people and Democrats have said, I just don't think they're going to compromise," Edgar said. "They might give him some things."

Asked if Madigan and Rauner — who spoke separately to his Edgar Fellows group — had shown any signs of optimism about budget negotiations, the two-term governor answered quickly, "No."

He said he was "worried that in two or three weeks we might be in the same position that we are right now. We need a budget. There are too many things that can fall through the cracks and wheels beginning to fall off and it's unfortunate."

He said it was "unfortunate" that budget "pressure points" had been removed by court rulings and the passage of a budget only for school funding.

"I hate to see anybody go without getting paid and I don't want to see the schools not open, but when those got taken off the table it took some of the pressure away. I think that's part of the problem here," said Edgar, now affiliated with the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois.

Among the large contingent of early Republican presidential contenders, Edgar said he favors former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

"Of all the candidates the one I know the best is Jeb. The one I think is most qualified is Jeb. The governorship is great preparation. I think governors make better presidents than U.S. senators, over most of the time," Edgar said. "But Florida is large, diverse state and he gets high marks for his governorship. I don't agree with him on all issues. He's very conservative, compared to my somewhat moderate position. But I think on immigration he's right. On education he's right. And those are two huge issues."

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