- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 3, 2015

CHICAGO (AP) - Gov. Bruce Rauner has a chance to fill in the details on his plans for fixing the state’s many problems when he addresses the General Assembly on Wednesday.

Many see his first State of the State speech as the true start of a new legislative session that officially began in January. It has essentially been on hold as the Democratic-controlled Legislature waits for the new Republican governor to detail his policy priorities.

Rauner, a first-time elected official who became Illinois’ first Republican governor in more than a decade, will have to work with the Democrats, who hold supermajorities in both legislative chambers.

It will all play out against a backdrop of the state facing a multibillion-dollar budget hole. Some programs already are running out of money for this year or are very close to it.

Here are some things to watch as Rauner gets started:

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LOOKING FOR SPECIFICS

Rauner has been previewing - some might say practicing - his speech in stops across the state, where he’s echoed the themes he repeated on the campaign trail: Illinois is broke and its government broken.

But so far, he’s spoken only broadly about solutions. And some legislators, taxpayers and others have been growing impatient.

Rauner’s team says the long-awaited specifics are coming Wednesday, and in a Feb. 18 speech in which he will lay out his budget blueprint.

If that’s true, it will be the first concrete legislative proposals from an administration that has promised to “shake up” Springfield.

If it doesn’t happen, expect some howling from critics who say it’s past time to move from campaign mode to governing.

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BUDGET PREVIEW?

While Rauner’s budget address isn’t expected for another two weeks, the state’s fiscal challenges will be a major topic Wednesday.

Look for the governor to continue criticizing how much money the state spends on employee payroll and benefits, pensions and Medicaid. He’s also likely to hint at changes on the revenue side, such as his proposal to broaden the tax base by imposing a tax on some services.

A Rauner administration official said Tuesday that the governor will reiterate his call to increase early childhood and K-12 education funding, despite Rauner’s warning for weeks that painful budget cuts may be coming in other areas. The official spoke only on condition of anonymity to not pre-empt the governor’s speech.

Rauner hasn’t said how he’d pay for the school funding increase or how it might affect other areas of the budget.

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FIRST LADY FACTOR

Watch for signs of influence from first lady Diana Rauner, who leads the Ounce of Prevention Fund, an early childhood education not-for-profit group.

She told The Associated Press last month that one of her primary roles as first lady will be to advocate for vulnerable children and families, and to help her husband understand the struggles social service agencies and families are facing.

Will the governor, who’s pledged to make Illinois both “competitive and compassionate,” touch on any of those topics?

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SAFE BETS

High on Rauner’s agenda is making Illinois more business-friendly and creating jobs.

He said during his inaugural speech last month that he’d ask the Legislature to work with him on a “comprehensive jobs and economic package that will get Illinois working again.”

That’s likely to include lowering the cost of workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance, and addressing a legal climate Rauner says is a magnet for trial lawyers.

Rauner also has signaled he’ll take on government “bureaucracy,” whether in education or by eliminating or consolidating some of Illinois’ roughly 7,000 units of government.

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ANTI-UNION ACTIONS

Rauner has amped up his criticism of government unions in recent weeks, saying workers are overpaid and their benefits too generous. On Monday, he indicated he wants to end unions’ right to collectively bargain over wages and benefits. He also wants to ban them from negotiating with elected officials whose campaigns received union donations.

Some see it as a curious line of attack for Rauner, particularly this early. He risks angering legislators on both sides of the aisle who have good relationships with organized labor. Unions say he’s vilifying workers, just as his administration has to begin negotiating a new contract with the state’s largest union.

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COMMON GROUND?

In the spirit of bipartisanship he so often touts, Rauner could throw out a few proposals he knows Democrats want.

Senate President John Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, said in his inaugural speech that he wants to rethink which offenders serve time in prison, and what those sentences look like. That’s one potentially cost-saving area that Rauner also has said he’d like to explore.

Rauner could also make good on offers to raise Illinois’ minimum wage - a key Democratic priority - if legislators also pass some of the pro-business changes he’s seeking.

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