* My weekly syndicated newspaper column…
Gov. Bruce Rauner has been touring Illinois to talk about his new “messaging.” He’s quite excited about his “messaging” plans, telling one reporter that if he could do anything differently about his tenure so far it would be to improve the way he gets his message out to voters. Yep. That’s really what he said.
One of the things that the governor was apparently counting on during his downstate tour is few, if any follow-up questions from reporters. For instance, after he completely dodged a question from a Peoria TV reporter about whether he deserves any blame for a year without a budget, the subject was changed and the governor was let off the hook.
Despite this, Rauner actually complained in Champaign last week about how “There’s no substance in the reporting,” before saying he was in the process of creating his own communication platforms to push his messaging directly to Illinoisans.
He’s not wrong about the lack of substance in the media’s coverage. A recent survey of social service providers by the highly respected United Way of Illinois was almost completely ignored by media outlets, despite an eye-grabbing finding that about a million Illinoisans had lost services during the impasse.
And the governor’s contention that he himself had cut $800 million in “wasteful spending” from the budget made it into print and on the air without a single question being asked about what those cuts were.
As it turns out, there are multiple problems with the governor’s list of cuts, which I asked to see (you can read the list below). Some of the saved money is due to action by his predecessor, a chunk of the cash is from special state funds with their own dedicated revenue sources, a bunch of the spending was put into the six-month stopgap budget that Rauner signed into law on June 30th and Rauner himself requested some of the “cut” items be appropriated in his own budget proposal last spring.
Let’s start at the very top of the governor’s list: “Medicaid Eligibility Redeterminations,” which he claims saved $53 million. OK, but that was initiated in 2012 with Medicaid reforms signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn. Rauner’s budget office says Quinn may have signed it, but he fully implemented it.
Rauner’s touted savings from cutting $21 million subsidies for disabled mass transit users is illusory because that money comes from the state’s Road Fund, which is funded with motor fuel taxes, license fees, etc. The same goes for his $4 million cut to Amtrak.
Several other programs on the governor’s list also get their money from Other State Funds (OSF), including tourism ($13 million claimed cut), recycling ($6 million), renewable and energy efficiency programs ($8 million), ICC vacancies and transfers ($6 million) and coal programs ($15 million).
The governor’s budget office claims that saving OSF money can help patch holes in the rest of the budget. But these funds (like the Road Fund, which was swept last year for a fortune) are set up and funded for particular purposes.
The governor claims in his list that he cut “Assorted DHS Programs not covered by Court Orders or Consent Decrees” for a total of $91 million. But several of those programs are funded in the stopgap budget that the governor signed into law on June 30th, including The Autism Program, ARC of Illinois, Teen Reach, homeless prevention, addiction prevention, the Emergency Food Program, funeral and burial expenses, immigrant integration services, welcoming centers, epilepsy services, etc.
Rauner also claims reductions to Criminal Justice Information Authority programs including CeaseFire, but that’s in the stopgap as well.
And despite claiming credit for making cuts, the governor actually requested spending for the programs in his own budget proposal from earlier this year, including paratransit and Amtrak. His budget also increased funding for tourism programs.
The governor also claimed $100 million in savings for not constructing the Illiana Expressway, which was in doubt anyway. And his touted $145 million cut to child care programs was reversed when Rauner cut a deal with the Democrats.
And then there’s the claimed savings of $4 million due to a delay in the opening of a veterans home in Chicago. But that delay actually ended up increasing the cost of the project and no money was appropriated by the Democratic-controlled General Assembly last fiscal year anyway, so it’s not really a Rauner savings.
Also, is a veterans home really “wasteful” spending? I doubt many politicians would make that claim. Much the same could be said of several other programs on the list.
How’s that for “substance,” governor?
In case you missed it last week, the list is here.
* Brian Brueggemann of the Belleville News Democrat asked Rauner about this very topic…
Q. You’ve boasted that your administration has cut $800 million in “wasteful spending.” Those cuts include Medicaid, child care, State Police vehicles, coal programs and agriculture programs. Do you consider those wasteful?
A. Well, we’ve got even another $700 million that we can cut. We have got to make government balanced and working for the people again, and we’ve been spending beyond what we can afford for decades. It’s just not sustainable. No family in Illinois could keep spending what they don’t have, like Illinois’ government. Government’s got to work for the people. We have cut $800 million out of unnecessary spending.
Two things I’m very proud of: We are now modernizing our IT system. We in Illinois, many of the departments don’t even have computers. We’re living in the stone age. I walked into one department in my first week — second week in office actually. Two-hundred people were in a room with paper applications on their desks, and no computers. I said, this doesn’t look efficient. I found out, we could spend half a million dollars on a computer system —half a million — and save $7 million per year. That’s going on all over the government. We are saving hundreds of millions of dollars by modernizing our IT. We’ve either got to move away from paper, or, in some departments we have computers but we’re running software from 1974. I mean, that was a great year, that’s when I got out of high school, but software changed a lot in the last 40-50 years. We can have productivity changes by modernizing.
And the other thing I’m very proud of…we have put in new labor contracts with 18 of the unions that work in state government. That’s transformative. We have the highest-paid state employes in America, which, you know, we can debate. I’m proud, we’ve got great workers, and I want them to be well-paid, but they want $3 billion more than what they’re receiving now, based on seniority. We said no, that’s not affordable, that’s not fair to our taxpayers. But we said we’ll pay bonuses, we will pay you more. We’ll leave salaries flat, but we’ll pay bonuses, but let’s do it based on productivity. Let’s have a bonus based on a percentage of what you save taxpayers. Save a taxpayer a dollar, we’ll give you 10 cents of that dollar. And you know what? A lot of employees have said, ‘Yeah, I know how to save money.’ That’s a win-win for the employees and the taxpayers. Eighteen unions have signed up for that deal. That’s transformative for Illinois, it’s saving us a lot of money. The bad news is, the largest union, so far, the leaders have said no to that. Their members, I think, they would ratify that new proposal if it could get to a vote. The leaders so far have said no. But we’ve got to stay strong. That’s going to help transform state government and save taxpayers a lot of money.
So, now it’s “unnecessary” spending. Some, I think, would disagree.