Story updated at 7:25pm ET.
In a newly surfaced video, Illinois' Republican gubernatorial nominee Bruce Rauner suggested if elected governor, he will fire public employees and potentially shut down the government to address his state's fiscal challenges.
The video, circulated today by the Illinois Federation of Teachers, shows Rauner addressing the Tazewell County Republican dinner in March. In remarks to that group, Rauner said: "We may have to go through rough times. We may have to do what Ronald Reagan did with the air traffic controllers. Sort of have to do a do-over and shut things down for a little while. That's what we're gonna do."
In 1981, members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization decided to go on strike in its push for better working conditions and higher pay. In response, President Reagan fired more than 11,000 air traffic controllers. The federal government subsequently decertified the air traffic controllers union. His action came months after he sent a letter to the head of PATCO acknowledging "too few people working unreasonable hours with obsolete equipment" and pledging that his "administration will work very closely with you to bring about a spirit of cooperation between the president and the air traffic controllers."
Rauner's call to "shut things down" took place only a few months after the federal government shutdown last October. It also comes amid Illinois' ongoing debate about how to address an estimated 30-year, $100 billion pension shortfall.
Critics of Illinois' recent move to slash pension benefits have pointed to the state's spending on tax cuts and subsidies as proof Illinois has plenty of money to address its pension obligations. For example, a New York Times analysis indicated, Illinois currently spends roughly $1.5 billion every year on taxpayer subsidies to corporations. Additionally, the state in 2011 passed a corporate tax cut bill that is estimated to cost $371 million a year. That bill was designed to award tax breaks to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.
Rauner is considered a top pickup opportunity for Republicans. He has been consistently leading in polls in his election matchup against incumbent Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn. His rhetoric against public employees stands in contrast to his business experience as a billionaire private equity executive who made his fortune managing government workers' public pension money.
In the months preceding his call for mass firings of public employees and a shutdown, Rauner has proposed to use budget savings from pension cuts to finance new income tax cuts. He has also called for public employees to be moved out of traditional pensions and into 401(k)-style accounts.
The Associated Press reported recently those defined contribution systems tend to generate large fees for financial firms. Union-affiliated groups have argued states that have converted their plans to 401(k)s have ended up losing taxpayers' money rather than cutting costs. Additionally, a Republican legislator in Alaska recently cited exploding pension costs as proof his state's 2006 transition to a 401(k) system was a mistake.
The Rauner campaign did not respond to a request for comment by publication time.
UPDATE: Another video has surfaced today showing Rauner making a similar comment in a March 2013 speech to Illinois Republicans. In that video, Rauner says: "I may have to take a strike and shut down the government for a few weeks and kinda redo everybody's contract. That's a possibility...I will do it proudly."