Tom Kacich: Rauner's mixed messages on borrowing

Tom Kacich: Rauner's mixed messages on borrowing

While in town last week, Gov. Bruce Rauner dropped a little nugget of news about a capital bill — borrowing more money for infrastructure improvements — before quickly moving on to a new topic.

"I'm also encouraging the General Assembly to work together on a bipartisan basis and pass a capital bill. I hope we can do that soon. I would love to see our state government step up and help the university with capital expenditures and invest here in Champaign-Urbana, primarily, but also around the state," Rauner said at a bill-signing ceremony at the University of Illinois. "Because the U of I is simply one of the most important economic engines for economic prosperity and economic growth of anything else in the state of Illinois.

"This arguably may be the best economic engine we have. We want the U of I to grow here in Champaign-Urbana but also expand its economic benefit throughout the state of Illinois."

He didn't say any more about a capital bill, and state Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, downplayed the notion that a big infrastructure program was in the pipeline.

"I think, in general, we'd like to have a capital bill, but that's as far as the conversation has gone. There's a long way between here and there," said Rose, who also was at the ceremony at the UI.

The state can't afford a big program, he said.

"But you do have some deferred maintenance and other things we'd like to do," added Rose.

Almost any kind of capital bill would have to be financed with borrowing — something that would have been out of the question before the Legislature approved a tax increase last month over Rauner's objections. At that time, the state's poor credit rating would have made more borrowing laughable.

What's noteworthy, however, is that while the governor is suggesting a capital bill, his administration seemed to be dismissing the idea, pushed by Democrats, to borrow money to pay back billions of unpaid bills.

"More borrowing on top of the spending behavior of the state government is not an optimal answer," Rauner told reporters earlier this month.

But Rauner spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said Friday the governor isn't opposed to borrowing to pay down the backlog of bills.

"I think his point there was that borrowing itself is not the answer, but we need to look at those options along with other spending reforms, other cost-cutting reforms and addressing our existing debt in other ways available to us," she said. "He's not saying that we can't borrow, just that we should not only borrow."

Patrick noted that excessive borrowing and taking on debt "is the way the state got into a lot of these issues."

Nursing home/jail swap

Several readers have suggested that instead of building a multimillion-dollar addition to Champaign County's satellite jail, perhaps the county could convert its nursing home (which could be sold as early as next year) to a jail, or house some physically or mentally ill prisoners in the nursing home.

The idea sounds like a non-starter.

Sheriff Dan Walsh said the notion of housing sick and injured prisoners in the home had been discussed years ago and was rejected by the nursing home's director.

And he noted that the nursing home is a "soft design," not the concrete and steel design required in a correctional facility. Jails have to be of a more sturdy design not only to prevent escape attempts but to keep inmates from hurting themselves and easily destroying jail infrastructure.

Besides, Walsh added, the nursing home is of a "linear design," meaning it would require a lot more correctional offices to staff,

"I can't imagine that the construction used in the nursing home is anywhere near approaching the requirements of a correctional facility," said County Administrator Rick Snider.

"And I know that it has been suggested that you use a wing of the nursing home for behavioral health treatment while the rest of the building remained a nursing home," he said. "I'm very skeptical that the Department of Public Health would allow that under the licensure of the nursing home. Even if they did I can't imagine anyone in the public wanting to put a loved one in a facility where they know that there are also inmates from the jail receiving treatment."

Big bucks for Dem congressional candidate?

The campaign of Erik Jones, the 37-year-old Edwardsville attorney who hopes to be the Democratic nominee in the 13th Congressional District, told Politico last week that he had raised more than $100,000 in the first 10 days after announcing his candidacy.

Gabby Adler, a spokeswoman for Jones, confirmed the Politico numbers and said that "he's continuing to receive support at that rate."

Jones, a former Illinois assistant attorney general and investigative counsel in the U.S. House, aspires to be the Democratic nominee against U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, next fall.

If true, that would put Jones in the neighborhood — perhaps past — what Democrat Ann Callis had raised at that point in her 2014 race against Davis.

There's no way to verify that claim, however, until third quarter fundraising numbers are reported to the Federal Election Commission in mid-October.

Jones is one of at least four Democratic contenders for Davis' seat. He hasn't been in Champaign County yet, although you can expect he will be once University of Illinois students return to campus.

Campaign finances

Two area state candidates for state representative — Democrat Cindy Cunningham of Royal (in the 104th District) and Republican Todd Henricks of Cerro Gordo (in the 101st District) — filed statements of organization last week that showed they had $1,000 in campaign funds.

But Julie Coe, a Republican candidate for Coles County clerk and recorder, outdid them. Coe, who hopes to replace the retiring Sue Rennels, started her campaign with $10,000.

Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette reporter and columnist. His column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at

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rsp wrote on August 14, 2017 at 11:08 am

Don't they currently treat inmates at the local hospitals? Nobody refusing to go to them because of it? The idea of using a wing at the nursing home was as a separate program, with secure doors, not mixing the populations together. Think of it as a demonstration program to start developing what everyone says we want and need. A place for sick patients going through withdrawal, high risk health issues, just released from the hospital, etc. Carefully selected patients, not overflow from the jail.