- Associated Press - Friday, January 9, 2015

CHICAGO (AP) - Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner can “usher in a new era” in Illinois, a committee advising the Republican businessman said Friday in offering recommendations for his priorities, saying the state’s problems will likely take years to address but are not intractable.

Among the suggestions for his first 100 days in office was that Illinois “jump start” the oil and gas drilling process known hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and that the governor’s office find a professional firm to create Illinois’ “new brand” and market the state to CEOs nationwide.

The committee also said Rauner should streamline state agencies, pause and review major infrastructure projects and take steps to limit senior public officials from serving as lobbyists after they leave office.

The 91-page report from Rauner’s transition committee comes as he prepares to take the oath of office Monday.

Rauner, who was traveling the state Friday as part of a two-day tour before inaugural festivities begin Sunday, said he would review the recommendations to ensure his team can “hit the ground running.” He did not commit to implementing them.

The biggest issue facing Rauner is undoubtedly Illinois’ financial crisis. The state has a multibillion-dollar budget deficit, billions in unpaid bills, the worst credit rating of any state and a $111 billion public-pension shortfall.

Committee members did not give specific guidance on how to fix those problems. But they noted that the issues have prevented Illinois from providing services to residents and making investments needed to be competitive. They said Rauner must allay the concerns of taxpayers, corporations and others by laying out a “clear and credible plan” to balance its budget. That plan should include cutting spending, finding efficiencies and comprehensive tax reform, they said.

The committee included Bill Daley, the former chief of staff to President Barack Obama who briefly challenged Gov. Pat Quinn in last year’s Democratic primary, Republican U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, and Caterpillar Inc. CEO Doug Oberhelman. The group said it reviewed more than 1,400 pages of policy memos, interviewed policy experts and considered more than 2,500 comments and recommendations submitted through the committee’s website.

Their recommendations also included:

- Working with legislators on ways to safely reduce Illinois’ prison population by changing sentencing laws. Illinois currently has one of the most crowded prison systems in the nation.

- In communities with unemployment at least two percentage points above the state average, designing technical and career education programs focused on the needs of area industries.

- Reviewing eligibility for people enrolled in Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor and disabled, and reviewing Medicaid spending on prescription drugs.

- Determining a way to more equally and adequately fund schools.

- Sufficiently staffing the Department of Natural Resources to more quickly respond to requests for fracking permits. Supporters of the oil and gas drilling process say it will create much-needed jobs in southern Illinois, but permits have been delayed because the state doesn’t have enough staff to oversee the process.

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