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Some Schnorf love

Friday, Feb 17, 2012

* Earlier this week, Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget director testified to the Budgeting for Results Commission. According to Jamey Dunn at Illinois Issues, David Vaught told the commission that state revenues would grow faster than earlier believed

Vaught did not give specifics on how the numbers would change before Quinn’s budget speech, which is scheduled to take place in a week, but he said revenues are “trending up.”

* But our old friend Steve Schnorf is on the commission and he had some words of caution for Vaught

Steve Schnorf, a member of the Budgeting for Results Commission and a former director of the Bureau of the Budget under former Gov. George Ryan, warned against a repeat of the fight over revenue estimates that happened last spring as lawmakers started the budgeting process for the current fiscal year. The House created a smaller estimate that the Senate and Quinn disagreed with, but that was what the budget was ultimately based upon. “Starting with an agreed upon revenue number … creates buy-in from all the players,” Schnorf said. “I think that buy-in is important.”

* Vaught’s excuse was a bit weak

Vaught said that the three-year projection created last year was done hastily and that his office was “a little uncertain” about the revenues that the then newly passed income tax increase would bring in. He said the estimate this year is much more certain.

* Even so, Schnorf is fairly optimistic about the new commission he sits on

Schnorf said that plans like Budgeting for Results aren’t new. “Most administrations have an initiative of some sort like this,” he said. “You go back through the last 30 years of press clippings and you would find initiatives like this announced by administrations.” But Schnorf said he thinks Quinn and lawmakers are committed to make the program work, and he predicted it would not become “sizzle rather than steak.”

* But he also warned that if lawmakers want to reward results, they would most likely have to penalize the failure of otherwise popular programs

Schnorf warned lawmakers that if they focus only on tangible goals when making decisions and have an eye for programs that are measured as successful, they might not like the budgeting outcomes. He said that public schools, for example, may not rate as high performers and asked lawmakers: “Does that mean we should take the money away from them and invest the money somewhere else that has a better return on investment?”

* And always bear this in mind

“In a time of scarcity, the only way you can reward someone for performing well is by punishing someone else,” Schnorf said. “Every dollar you spend is a dollar you don’t have. You have to take it from somewhere else.”

We need lots more people like Steve Schnorf either in or advising this government. He’s a state treasure. And he’s absolutely right about this budgeting for results stuff during a time of scarce state resources. Difficult choices are ahead.

I usually try not to get too close to Statehouse types. Yeah, it can be lots of fun hanging out with them after hours whilst I troll for stories at the various watering holes. But Schnorf is one of the only people in this business who I’ve allowed to come to my home for gatherings of my non-political friends. He’s brilliant, has a wealth of life experience, can converse on multiple topics, knows more about music than most and my friends just love the guy. I don’t blame them. So do I.

…Adding… Related…

* Medicaid in Crisis Even Before Cuts: The Illinois Hospital Association and Illinois State Medical Society oppose Quinn’s plan to cut the rates doctors are paid. The state’s per-service payments already fail to cover the full cost of providing treatment. In dental care, for example, private insurance might pay about $75 for filling a cavity. For a Medicaid patient, the dentist receives about $30 from the state after waiting, sometimes for up to six months, for reimbursement. The result is a shrinking pool of doctors willing to treat Medicaid patients.

* Chicago teachers asking for 30% raises over next 2 years: Documents obtained by the Tribune show that in the face of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s expansion of the school day, the union has led with an offer seeking a 24 percent raise in the 2012-13 school year and a 5 percent increase the following year, the net effect being 30 percent.

* State high court sides with CPS in dispute over teacher layoffs

* College Illinois! could get shot of taxpayer cash

* Sugar-drink tax to get Chicagoans, budget in shape?

* Illinois voters tend to agree with Obama’s mix of higher taxes, spending cuts - Tribune/WGN-TV poll also shows two-thirds support minimum 30% rate on highest earners

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - ChicagoR - Friday, Feb 17, 12 @ 10:42 am:

    I’ve never met the guy, but from his posts on here, he’s my favorite Republican.

  2. - TCB - Friday, Feb 17, 12 @ 10:46 am:

    I’d be curious to see who was closer with their preliminary FY12 revenue estimates. Me thinks the GOMB/Senate number (they were the same once you take out Quinn’s pipedreams) will be closer to accurate than the COGFA/House. However, the House/COGFA does win the award for the most conservative/fiscally responsible estimate & that surely counts for a lot.

  3. - Ben Gazzara (may he rest in peace) - Friday, Feb 17, 12 @ 10:47 am:

    I have a lot of respect for the guy and love the balance and perspective he brings to his posts. Which is why it so troubles me that every time I read his name that terrible old cartoon Thundercats comes to mind. Snarf!

  4. - Taylor Thomas - Friday, Feb 17, 12 @ 10:47 am:

    And an EIU grad! Go Panthers!!

  5. - The Elderly Man You Used To Love - Friday, Feb 17, 12 @ 11:08 am:

    Where was Schnorf when Gov. Edgar championed the 1995 pension funding law that backloaded State pension payments? Where was Schnorf when Gov. Edgar signed expensive benefit upgrades for SERS, SURS, and TRS in the late 1990’s? What exactly was Schnorf’s advice to Gov. Ryan regarding the costly 2002 ERI? (Yes, I know, Blago later re-financed the ERI in a reckless and irresponsible way) I’m just saying, before we confer state treasurehood on Schnorf, let’s discuss some of these points that don’t involve firsthand knowledge of all things Les Paul.

  6. - Ahoy - Friday, Feb 17, 12 @ 11:18 am:

    Good post.

    Novel idea, let CGFA set the revenue stream, then people can argue over the spending.

  7. - mark walker - Friday, Feb 17, 12 @ 11:21 am:

    This budgeting-for-results process must be a patient, deliberate, multi-year effort. New members and staff have to be trained in it. Approp Committee chairs have to stick to it. Our problem has been not sticking with things that don’t look good immediately.

    And yes, my sense is that the House deliberately stayed with the lower revenue estimate, despite knowing that the numbers were getting slightly better, to enforce more spending discipline.

    So much more to do.

  8. - I don't want to live in Teabagistan - Friday, Feb 17, 12 @ 11:25 am:

    Of course, he cut his teeth at CMS.

  9. - dupage dan - Friday, Feb 17, 12 @ 11:27 am:

    30% raise for CPS teachers. Wonder how the taxpayers will feel about that?

  10. - Anyone Remember - Friday, Feb 17, 12 @ 11:41 am:

    The Elderly Man You Used To Love

    As someone who believes it is not possible to beat up enough on Jim Edgar for his backloading of pension payments (the worst single budget decision of the last 50 years), some points.

    Joan Walters was BoB Director for most of Edgar’s Governorship - she was there in 1994 when the 1995 pension law was introduced by Sen. Madigan, R-Lincoln, under the watchful eyes of Pate Philip. I think, but am not certain, she was there when most of the pension upgrades happened.

    The ERI is a good question. Please note the law passed with only one no vote (Frank Mautino). The Republicans voted for it to provide a parachute for their patronage proteges. The Democrats (Mautino excepted) voted for it, thinking it would open up positions for their patronage proteges (at that point, there was no indication John Filan was going to be Blagojevich’s budget director).

    I am no fan of Edgar’s pension actions, but Schnorf was not there for most of them.

  11. - wordslinger - Friday, Feb 17, 12 @ 11:56 am:

    Given the circumstances, it would be best to budget with the low-ball number on revenues. Anything above and beyond can go to old bills.

  12. - reformer - Friday, Feb 17, 12 @ 12:26 pm:

    Elderly Man
    I’d enjoy reading Steve’s analysis of those dubious Edgar and Ryan budget policies, as well as sharing what his recommendations were at the time.

    That said, Steve obviously has a deeper command of budget issues than anyone else posting here, and his analysis is free of the usual Springfield partisanship. That’s why his opinions command respect.

  13. - I don't want to live in Teabagistan - Friday, Feb 17, 12 @ 12:56 pm:

    DuPage Dan: Good to see a Drudge fanboy on here.

  14. - dupage dan - Friday, Feb 17, 12 @ 1:09 pm:


    Don’t read Drudge. Don’t need to. All I need to do is look at the political/economic landscape to know that the citizens of Chicago are tapped out and recent events (eg: citizens seemed to support the lengthening of the school day proposed by Emanuel) indicate there may not be alot of support for the union re this proposal.

    A person can have an opinion that is not shaped by some website or another.

  15. - Understand? - Friday, Feb 17, 12 @ 1:22 pm:

    I understand that Mr. Schnorf garners respect on this blog, but wasn’t he the budget chief for a Governor who mightily contributed to the current fiscal mess the state is in? We didn’t get to a $8b unfunded pension liability and these levels of unsustainable spending by accident. Are we to really listen to the man who helped build the glass house when he says “don’t throw stones?”

  16. - BethB - Friday, Feb 17, 12 @ 1:35 pm:

    While it sounds well and good to end state funding of failing programs, lawmakers must take into account that they have been drastically underfunding a variety of state programs for years, which has directly resulted in them failing. It seems like an awful catch-22: we won’t give the resources you need to succeed and when you fail we’ll take away your resources! Expecting schools, human service providers, or public safety departments to operate with less funding year after year and yet still achieve great results is ridiculous.

  17. - steve schnorf - Friday, Feb 17, 12 @ 2:27 pm:

    Rich, the envelope will be in the usual place.

  18. - TCB - Friday, Feb 17, 12 @ 2:27 pm:

    = I understand that Mr. Schnorf garners respect on this blog, but wasn’t he the budget chief for a Governor who mightily contributed to the current fiscal mess the state is in? We didn’t get to a $8b unfunded pension liability and these levels of unsustainable spending by accident. Are we to really listen to the man who helped build the glass house when he says “don’t throw stones?” =
    Huh? First off the unfunded pension liability is more like $80B, while the cumulative budget deficit is closer to $8B, HUGE DIFFERENCE between the 2.
    Also, when Schnorf was replaced as budget director (I assume around the time Blago took office, January of 2003) the deficit was pretty small, if one existed at all, compared to what it is today. During Steve’s tenure, the state did pay some of the small pension payments caused by Jim Edgar’s “ramp-up” but that to say that Steve is to blame is just silly.

  19. - Rich Miller - Friday, Feb 17, 12 @ 2:32 pm:

    LOL, Steve. Don’t even joke about that. But you’re welcome.

  20. - steve schnorf - Friday, Feb 17, 12 @ 3:00 pm:

    Some fair questions.

    Governor Edgar’s 1995 pension reform law was a great improvement over what we had before, which was no requirement at all. With 20/20 hindsight, there needed to be some sort of relief valve in place for times when the state’s revenues fell precipitously over a period of years. The absence of that relief valve is understandable, since up to that time, the state’s revenue had never fallen precipitously over a period of years. On balance, a vast improvement over what preceded it.

    The pension enhancements brought benefits up to equitable levels with our peer states’ employees, and were and are affordable. Remember, during this same period of time, we moved health benefits from free after 8 years to free after 20; far from a perfect change from today’s perspective, but again a significant move in the right direction.

    As to the ERI, go to the latest COGFA ERI report and look at the numbers. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

    Now, if you are asking had I known then what I know now, would I have given different advice, negotiated differently, etc, on some things, sure. Wouldn’t you?

  21. - Its Just Me - Friday, Feb 17, 12 @ 3:26 pm:

    Completely agree, Rich. This administration only wants to listen to people that already agree with them.

  22. - WizzardOfOzzie - Friday, Feb 17, 12 @ 3:57 pm:

    It’s just me…

    Sorry, but it was the Governor’s office who asked Steve to testify on behalf of the Budgeting for Results Commission to the Senate Appropriations hearing. The BFR Commission is bi-partisan and those who’ve been attending know that the Governor’s office has listened to all input. It’s one of the only truly bi-partisan efforts currently under way in the State and Steve Schnorf has been a big part of it.

    I suggest you attend their next meeting, they’re all open to the public.

  23. - Champaign - Friday, Feb 17, 12 @ 4:04 pm:

    Not sure where to post this, but Governor Quinn downplayed the Caterpillar plant decision saying we didn’t have any ocean-front property in Illinois. I wonder what he thinks about Athens GA being 225 miles from Savannah and 269 miles from Charleston. Not exactly near the ports. Perhaps there were other important considerations?

  24. - Anyone Remember - Friday, Feb 17, 12 @ 4:43 pm:

    Mr. Schnorf - Do you have anything to add about Public Act 86-0273? While the Thompson Administration ignored it, the Edgar Administration could have voluntarily complied with it.

    Champaign - Athens GA has direct rail access via CSX to the ports of Savannah and Charleston.

  25. - Rich Miller - Friday, Feb 17, 12 @ 5:12 pm:

    ===Not exactly near the ports===

    Still a lot closer than we are.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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