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Pick a lane

Monday, Jul 1, 2019

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the $45 billion infrastructure bill into law last week during a three-day fly-around to several Illinois cities.

It’s a good bet that the billionaire Pritzker paid for the plane that took him and whatever staff he brought to the various venues, since he’s regularly done that since taking office in January. The state hasn’t had an appropriation to pay to operate its fleet of aircraft since Gov. Bruce Rauner halted their use during a long period of political gridlock.

Illinois is close to 400 miles long and over 200 miles wide. Flying is far more efficient and much less exhausting than driving to cities throughout this state in a day or two or even three. The governor should have better things to do with his time.

The state-owned airplane fleet was a constant source of irritation to good government types back in the day, and we regularly saw news articles about their use and/or over-use.

The Associated Press, for instance, published a story in 2007 about how then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich had taken almost 1,000 flights on state planes in five years. Blagojevich was known to commute back and forth from his home in Chicago to Springfield on days when the General Assembly was in session.

Several politicians, including former Gov. Pat Quinn, were legitimately criticized over the years for taking state planes to official government events and then hosting campaign events nearby. The government flights essentially helped subsidize their campaigns.

But the debate shifted during Gov. Rauner’s one and only term. The mega-rich Republican was criticized by a reform group in 2017 for renting a helicopter with his own personal money to visit a flooded area in Lake County. The executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform said at the time that there should be some sort of public disclosure when private funds are used for state purposes.

And Gov. Pritzker was just criticized by another reform group for paying for private jet rides for him and his staff to official events in Washington, DC and New York. “It feels wrong,” said the executive director of Common Cause Illinois, according to Chicago’s NBC 5. The reformer said the use of private money for public purposes concerned him.

It may “feel wrong” because of the amount of money involved, but there are some elected officials of more modest means who choose not to accept travel and mileage reimbursements, or per diems or whatever. For that matter, some public school teachers dip into their own pockets to pay for classroom supplies. What do we do about them?

Not long after Pat Quinn was elevated to governor after Blagojevich was impeached and removed from office, an Associated Press story favorably highlighted Quinn’s decision to pay for most of his overseas travel as lieutenant governor out of his own pocket. The story also reported that Quinn refused to accept a daily meal allowance when traveling and often paid for his own hotel rooms. “The thrifty image is in contrast to Blagojevich, who was criticized for his frequent use of state aircraft,” the article’s author claimed.

Not a single good government group spoke up back then to say Quinn’s alleged thriftiness with state money by paying his own way “feels wrong.” But two rich guys in a row have taken heat for using their own money for trips on private aircraft instead of billing taxpayers.

I get the class consciousness angle here. “Get a load of Mr. Bigshot flying around on private jets.” But the guy is rich beyond most of our comprehensions and, just like Rauner before, Illinoisans knew that when they elected him. Candidate Pritzker flew around the state on a fleet of private planes and now Gov. Pritzker is doing the same.

Maybe there’s a dollar point above which personal spending for public purposes could be disclosed. But it “feels” like such a law would be targeting one guy. And to what end? Are we really entitled to know how much an elected official spends out of his or her own bank account rather than charging taxpayers?

The reformers need to think this whole thing through and come back with an actual policy proposal that goes beyond feelings and addresses the potential for real abuses. The Center for Illinois Politics announced last week that it would host a public forum about this topic so it could be thoroughly discussed. Fine by me.

Either way, pick a lane. Don’t spend decades complaining about the use of state-owned planes then suddenly shift to criticizing privately funded flights.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

27 Comments
  1. - Cheryl44 - Monday, Jul 1, 19 @ 9:24 am:

    My estimate of the percentage of teachers spending their own money on supplies is roughly 100%.


  2. - Amalia - Monday, Jul 1, 19 @ 9:39 am:

    You are correct about the criticism hypocrisy. But I’d like the costs to be calculated and made known. This is a constant item on my to do list for every not for profit I encounter. You have to calculate the cost of doing business, including in kind donations. Volunteers spending their own money is great. You need to know how much it actually costs to do something. This is especially true when applying for grants. Being happy that he spends the money is fine. But knowing the cost tells us more about how much it is to run Illinois. we cannot always rely on people who have the money, nor should we.


  3. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Jul 1, 19 @ 9:39 am:

    For me, it boils down, in one instance, to “this”…

    Ridiculous folks like Ms. Garrett who are desperately trying to *seem* relevant, but have no real compass to their *own* legislative history, the blind ignorance that Rauner did it, and said in multiple outlets “no one” else did… even the current statutes on the books…

    Ms. Susan Garrett is the one propagating fooolheardy ignorance for herself, not with any real concern to what is going on.

    I’m embarrassed for Ms. Garrett.

    Some can leave the stage or stay in the audience and add to things. Ms. Garrett and this discussion revolves around too many false premises and real purposeful blindness to prop *some* up for their own… ego.

    I’ll start here…


  4. - Huh? - Monday, Jul 1, 19 @ 9:40 am:

    Why pick a lane when the complainers want to veer all over the road?

    I think it would be a good idea to reactivate the IDOT fleet of planes and helicopters.


  5. - lincoln's beard - Monday, Jul 1, 19 @ 9:41 am:

    Three paragraphs in, I was ready for this to be a column in favor of high speed interurban rail.


  6. - MSIX - Monday, Jul 1, 19 @ 9:52 am:

    Sometimes outrage is an end unto itself.


  7. - A guy - Monday, Jul 1, 19 @ 9:57 am:

    I really don’t get this at all. I believe JB has given up the official salary (correct me if I’m wrong) and I know Rauner did.

    One of the benefits of these people of great means is that they can save some tax payer money with salaries (their own and some others) and some expenses. It’s not hard to calculate the cost of leasing a plane for a fly around. The state planes are grounded. If that is the case, why do we have state planes?

    This is much ado about nothing. There are real financial crises to deal with. This is a stupid distraction.


  8. - cannon649 - Monday, Jul 1, 19 @ 9:59 am:

    The issue is disclosure. Tell the taxpayers what is it going to cost (or worth) to have you do for the job.

    Again I do not believe JB is looking to reimbursed - his billionaire life style is far different almost everyone -but that does not he should disclose and possibly hold this over the taxpayer.

    The rest is just politics


  9. - Grandpa2 - Monday, Jul 1, 19 @ 10:02 am:

    Retiring the IDOT fleet was one of the handful of good things that Rauner did for Illinois. If a regular person becomes the next Governor, it would be far more economical to charter aircraft when needed, and the costs would be transparent.


  10. - PublicServant - Monday, Jul 1, 19 @ 10:12 am:

    Shoot Rich, they gotta complain about something, or they wouldn’t need to exist.


  11. - State of DenIL - Monday, Jul 1, 19 @ 10:16 am:

    Professional whiner whines about having nothing to whine about.

    It’s a triple nothingburger, with extra nothing and a side of nada served with a cold zilch. Snore.


  12. - Urban Girl - Monday, Jul 1, 19 @ 10:22 am:

    I agree with Amalia about knowing the cost of doing business. For Pritzker, I would translate that from the cost of owning a plane to the cost of booking a charter flight.

    I do not think you can efficiently lead the state or have a high-level statewide job that takes you all around the state without using planes.

    The good government folks should draft a policy that outlines how to use the best travel options (time v. money) to conduct state business without or minimizing abuse to subsidize political activities.


  13. - Lester Holt’s Mustache - Monday, Jul 1, 19 @ 10:57 am:

    ==The Center for Illinois Politics announced last week that it would host a public forum about this topic so it could be thoroughly discussed.==

    *facepalm. Yes, of course, we simply must thoroughly discuss the issue. I’m sure that donors to the Center will be happy that you’re using their money to study and debate whether Governors flying on planes at no expense to the taxpayer is a good thing or not. There’s absolutely nothing going on in Illinois politics more important. smdh


  14. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Jul 1, 19 @ 11:00 am:

    - Lester Holt’s Mustache -

    It’s seemingly to allow Ms. Garrett’s ego to be eased… as she needs to feel important.

    Ignoring her own legislative history, laws, even Rauner’s history allows Ms. Garrett to reconcile her own need to seem relevant.

    If it makes her feel better…


  15. - Bourbon Street - Monday, Jul 1, 19 @ 11:11 am:

    I seriously doubt that any Illinois taxpayer is having sleepless nights worrying about rich governors who spend their own money on State business.

    Avoiding accusations of “using state resources to conduct political business” is enough justification for a politician of means to expend his or her own money for trips with dual purposes.

    Time for the “reformers” to find a real issue.


  16. - ChrisB - Monday, Jul 1, 19 @ 11:19 am:

    Local groups complain about the government.

    More at 11…


  17. - Langhorne - Monday, Jul 1, 19 @ 11:19 am:

    Thompson used to say that using a state plane or other aircraft was not a perk, it was a job requirement. I wanted a state fly around with Thompson that started in Chicago. When

    we got to Cairo I told the pilot I was glad to be home in Springfield in another hour Or so. He informed me we were going to Chicago first, to drop off the director, then back to Springfield. So I flew over 1000 miles in one day, and never left the state.


  18. - Levois - Monday, Jul 1, 19 @ 11:27 am:

    This column lets me know politics is a lot like life, sometimes no matter what you can’t win. You pay for flights out of your pocket the right thing, but it’s the wrong thing for some people.


  19. - Demoralized - Monday, Jul 1, 19 @ 11:27 am:

    I don’t mind maybe making them publish a manifest of who travels on the plane so, as someone has suggested, we can ensure that there aren’t any conflicts of interest as far as carting around someone in exchange for some favor. I also wouldn’t mind having them publish the total cost of each flight so that, as someone has also suggested, we can see how much the travel is costing and how much the Governor paying for it is saving the state.

    I personally don’t care if the Governor is paying for it himself nor do I personally care if anything is disclosed about it. I think this continued talk about him paying for his own travel is just ridiculous.


  20. - Levois - Monday, Jul 1, 19 @ 11:30 am:

    I’ve had some teachers back in the day, if they offered school supplies to students sometimes they charged for it. It could be a folder or a pen they get some money back on it. Also my old high school (GO FALCONS) used to have a vending machine for notebook paper is it wrong for my school to have that available for students?


  21. - Dotnonymous - Monday, Jul 1, 19 @ 11:37 am:

    It behooves every man to remember that the work of the critic is of altogether secondary importance, and that, in the end, progress is accomplished by the man who does things. - T. Roosevelt


  22. - Ginhouse Tommy - Monday, Jul 1, 19 @ 12:44 pm:

    OW She could have taken Advil instead. It appears some dogs like to bark just to hear the sound of it. Whatever.


  23. - NoGifts - Monday, Jul 1, 19 @ 12:45 pm:

    I don’t care if he pays himself as long as his calendar is public.


  24. - Ginhouse Tommy - Monday, Jul 1, 19 @ 1:18 pm:

    NoGifts is spot on.


  25. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Jul 1, 19 @ 1:27 pm:

    - Ginhouse Tommy -

    ===She could have taken Advil instead.===

    Now it’s everyone else needing the pain relief from her thoughts?

    Maybe.


  26. - DuPage Bard - Monday, Jul 1, 19 @ 3:14 pm:

    Well this story has gotten at least 4 days of life. Which is probably more than the former Senator has had since leaving office.

    So I guess it achieved it’s purpose.


  27. - justacitizen - Monday, Jul 1, 19 @ 9:12 pm:

    Many don’t think the personal payments by governors and other elected officials is a big deal, but it’s more of an ethical issue than anything. Besides the obvious liability and accounting issues, the “I’m not drawing a salary, so I can do whatever I want attitude” is not a good precedent.


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