* My weekly syndicated newspaper column…
“Today, I laid out more than $1 billion in structural reforms,” Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner boasted to his supporters via a blast e-mail last week.
Rauner’s press conference to announce a billion dollars in alleged budget savings was an almost total farce.
Fully half of what Rauner said he could save – $500 million at the Department of Central Management Services – came with absolutely no details. Rauner did provide some annual totals for emergency and sole-source contracts, but he’d have to get rid of almost all of those, with all those government services they involve, to hit his goal. It’s a total sleight of hand with no actual basis in reality, but it gets him half way to his magic billion dollars, so it was included.
Another $250 million would come from implementing “Medicaid verification reform,” but those reforms are ongoing, although not to Rauner’s liking. The private company hired to root out ineligible Medicaid recipients started with the lowest of low hanging fruit. And even then, lots of people were restored to the Medicaid rolls after filling out the proper forms. So projecting a $250 million savings based on the initial work by that private contractor, before its actions were reversed, is a complete fantasy.
In other words, three-quarters of Rauner’s billion dollars is either magic money or already in the pipeline.
Part of what Rauner did last week was what every candidate does. He highlighted some press clippings about Quinn administration screwups, which he claims totaled $140 million.
But almost half that amount – $60 million – was overtime costs for prison workers. Rauner wants to hire more guards, but that would actually add state costs for things like training, more full-time salaries and benefits. Should there be more prison guards? Sure. But don’t pretend that it’ll save money.
Yet another $40 million in “wasteful spending” cited by Rauner was actually an upgrade of the state’s probation system, which has been badly neglected for years. Another $12 million was what Rauner called “Medicaid payments to deceased individuals.” Rauner’s former investment firm owned a bunch of nursing homes and hospitals, so he ought to know that Medicaid doesn’t make direct payments to patients, alive or dead. And while this was most definitely a Quinn administration screwup, the government has recovered most of the money that was sent to managed care providers, mainly hospitals.
So, out of $140 million in “waste” touted by Rauner, at least $112 million isn’t actually waste or has been or will be recovered.
Add the $500 million magic money savings from CMS, plus the highly doubtful $250 million savings in Medicaid plus the $112 million in “waste” that isn’t actually waste and he had $862 million in savings that aren’t really there – out of the billion dollars he said he had identified.
Oh, but there’s more.
I’ll even be charitable and give Rauner all of his savings on questionable capital projects. But these aren’t annual cash savings. The state takes out long-term loans for construction projects and Rauner pointed to some projects totaling about $11.5 million. Yes, many of those projects are goofy. No argument there. Spending an eye-popping $10 million to rehab a decrepit private theater in Chicago is a justifiable target for critics. But cutting out that project won’t save $10 million a year. It’ll save maybe a tenth of that.
And, heck, grant him his idea to move legislators to a 401(k) plan, which is probably unconstitutional, but he claims it will save $60 million – over 30 years. Annualize that out and it’s a $2 million annual savings.
I won’t even point out that Rauner counted some savings twice. OK, I did point it out, but I won’t put it in the final tally. He wants a 10 percent cut in constitutional offices and General Assembly spending, which he says will save $40 million. But he also wants to merge the offices of the comptroller and treasurer, which he says will save $12 million.
The bottom line is that out of a $36 billion or so state budget, Rauner successfully and accurately identified maybe $70 million in overspending per year – or less than 0.2 percent of the budget.
Hey, I’m not knocking $70 million. Every little bit helps. But when you advertise a billion dollars in savings and your provable savings add up to only about 7 percent of that, pardon me if I’m not exactly inspired.
“We need to stop the false choice of dangerous cuts to government services or higher taxes,” Rauner claimed last week.
What we need, Bruce, is a serious conversation.
* Lots of folks jumped on Rauner’s case…
* Paul Merrion: Rauner offers few specifics to challenge Quinn on Illinois budget: “He says he has a plan, and this isn’t a plan. It’s not even an introduction to a plan,” says former GOP state Rep. Jim Nowlan, a retired professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Institute of Government and Public Affairs. “It’s a mistake because it’s going to be ridiculed.”
* Doug Finke: Rauner budget is definitely, um, something - Well, people demanded budget information from Bruce Rauner, and last week he finally came out with something. Just what it was depends on your perspective.
* Kurt Erickson: One of his ideas is to sell off most of the state’s fleet of airplanes. He says we shouldn’t be paying thousands of dollars to fly people when they can drive between Springfield and Chicago for $65 one way. That figure seemed odd. According to our calculations, the state employee mileage reimbursement for driving between the Capitol and the main state office building in Chicago is about $114 one way. Rauner spokesman Mike Schrimpf said the figure was based on a lower mileage reimbursement rate used by members of the General Assembly. That’s fine, but that doesn’t account for the various attorneys, legislative liaisons, agency directors and others who must trek between the two cities to do the state’s business.
* Mark Brown: Rauner should be red-faced over meager reform ‘Blueprint’: I found it fairly dumbfounding on Thursday when Rauner, with three caged chickens at his side, completely laid an egg with his first attempt to show there’s some substance behind the slick campaign that won the Republican primary.
* Carol Marin: Bruce Rauner’s game of chicken: You don’t found and grow a private equity enterprise like GTCR. — the “R” stood for Rauner — without a granular understanding of how to make money in the most sophisticated ways possible. And so it is amazing — if not disheartening — to read the mere pamphlet that the Rauner campaign took more than a year to produce. It’s a brochure, not a plan. And specifics? It’s just the same old campaign trope.
* Matt Dietrich: Rauner’s budget plan is mighty thin gruel: But for a candidate who has promised innovation that will “shake up Springfield,” this was beyond disappointing.
* SJ-R editorial: Rauner’s blueprint falls a few billion short: In the end, what Rauner presented is 11 pages of populist talking points. Quinn has taken heat for floating plenty of populist ideas of his own through the years, but he also has had to deal with very real, very difficult issues during his time as governor. Fiscally conservative Rauner should take no pride in putting forth such superficial ideas.
* WSIL: Bruce Rauner Unveils Unspecific Reform Plans: “It’s pretty clear that he’s got to say more. If he’s not going to raise taxes, then I think he owes the people of Illinois some specifics about what he wants to cut. It’s not going to be pleasant, nobody’s going to like it, but it’s time people be told the truth,” says David Yepsen with the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute.
* WICS: Democrats and Republicans React to Rauner Budget Plan: “How does he plan to make up for the loss of $7 billion of revenue when the income tax expires at the end of the year?” [former Republican State Senator Larry Bomke] said.
* NBC5: Most amusingly, a Twitter parody account — dubbed The Rauner Chicken — has surfaced to mock Rauner’s poultry gimmick and all squawking thereof.
* Chuck Sweeny: Bruce Rauner’s 10-point plan: One thing Illinois has in abundance is fairy dust, enough to supply all the Disney theme parks.
No surprise, the Chicago Tribune editorial board was silent.
…Adding… More from that Paul Merrion piece…
A spokesman for Mr. Rauner declines to discuss how the plan was developed. Some observers question whether the campaign, which didn’t have an in-house policy team until after the March primary, has the staff in place to produce more detailed proposals.
Lobbyists and interest groups recently have been talking to two new staffers: Aaron Winters, a former top aide to Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk, and David Wu, former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels’ policy director. Neither has any Illinois budget experience. The campaign also is relying on state legislators and their staffs.
Enphasis added for obvious reasons.
…Adding More… Oops. I forgot to post my own take from my Crain’s column…
The poorly thought-out list of budget cuts that Mr. Rauner presented June 12 won’t stop him from being slammed for not proposing detailed tax and spending plans. But he can’t actually propose a “real” budget that doesn’t include tax hike revenues because he’d have to make gigantic cuts. And those cuts would alienate large swaths of Latinos, African-Americans and suburban women. So, he’ll probably propose a fake budget.
* Closer Look: Prairie chickens an election issue
* Will Bruce Rauner Convince Illinois to Give Up on the Prairie Chicken?: The population has continued to struggle, most recently because of the 2012 drought. Even after the controversial prairie chicken translocation of 2014, the population is vanishingly small, though the importing of 200 more is planned through 2016.
* Laura Washington: Rauner’s rainbow pitch off target: Bruce Rauner wants to govern Illinois. He aspires to assemble a leadership team to run and represent a racially and ethnically diverse state. Yet, this hugely successful businessman could not find diversity in his own back yard.