Rauner freezes “non-essential” spending, but doesn’t define term

SPRINGFIELD (AP) — Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner moved quickly to address Illinois’ budget mess Monday, taking the oath of office and then ordering state agencies to immediately freeze all non-essential spending, but did not define what is “non-essential.”

The wealthy businessman told those at his inauguration ceremony in Springfield that Illinois has become less  competitive and that businesses and residents have fled the state because of high taxes and over regulation. He said addressing the multibillion-dollar budget hole and other problems will require sacrifice, but is the only way to turn Illinois around.

Rauner said he’s also ordering a review of all state contracts issued since Nov. 1 and cutting his own salary to $1. As he promised during the campaign, he’s declining all benefits, including a pension.

He said he also plans to ask the Democratic-controlled legislature during the coming weeks to work with him on a jobs and economic package aimed at putting people back to work.

Rauner, a private equity investor from Winnetka who is holding public office for the first time, defeated Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn in November to become Illinois’ 42nd governor. He’s the first Republican to lead the state since George Ryan left office in 2003.

He told a cheering crowd Monday that Illinois has an ethical crisis in addition to its financial problems, and said he’ll take action Tuesday to strengthen ethics in the executive branch.

Rauner pledged to work with Democrats, who hold veto-proof majorities in the Illinois House and Senate. And he made clear they weren’t the only ones to blame for Illinois’ fiscal crisis, saying both parties have a history of spending money the state doesn’t have.

In addition to the budget shortfall, Illinois has billions in unpaid bills and the worst credit rating of any state. Its public pension system has an unfunded liability of $111 billion, and a new law aimed at eliminating the debt is on hold because of a challenge before the Illinois Supreme Court.

Other statewide officials also took the oath of office Monday. They are Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Secretary of State Jesse White and Treasurer Michael Frerichs, all Democrats, and Comptroller Leslie Munger and Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti, both Republicans.

Munger was appointed by Rauner to replace the late Judy Baar Topinka, who died shortly after winning another term as comptroller in November. Munger will serve until 2016, when a special election will be held to fill the position.

Rauner started the day at an interfaith service at a downtown Springfield church where Abraham Lincoln once worshipped. Muslim, Jewish and Christian religious leaders took part in the service, including Catholic Archbishop Blase Cupich and Baptist Rev. James Meeks.

On Sunday, Rauner launched celebrations in Springfield that included a museum visit, a veterans’ job fair and swanky $1,000-a-plate dinner at the Illinois Capitol.