First law on holes: When you’re in one, quit digging!
The good news: under Governor Quinn’s leadership, Illinois has not only stopped digging – it has finally begun climbing out of the deep hole caused by decades of financial mismanagement by both parties, the Great Recession and two corrupt governors in a row.
The bad news: instead of doing their jobs and passing a budget that continued to pay down the bills, legislators – unwilling to make radical cuts to core services yet unwilling to take a tough vote to extend the tax rates – opted to defer the hard decisions until after the election.
As a former director of the state’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) and Chicago Public Schools Chief, and someone who has balanced multiple budgets, I am a numbers guy.
So let’s do the math, shall we?
Since 2009 when Illinois was in a fiscal emergency, the governor has cut state spending by more than $5.7 billion. He cut wasteful spending, cutting the use of paper, pagers, landlines and cell phones, while reducing office space by 2.4 million square feet. He closed and consolidated more than 50 state facilities.
In 2011, the governor signed legislation that raised the income tax rate from 3% to 5% where it currently is today, to provide urgently-needed revenue that allowed the state to pay down the bills from $9.9 billion to $4.2 billion where it is today.
In 2012, Governor Quinn and legislators overhauled the state’s Medicaid program, reducing spending by $2 billion while rooting out waste, fraud and abuse.
In 2013, the governor enacted a comprehensive pension reform package, that Moody’s said could be the most significant in the nation and one that completely erases the state’s worst-in-the-nation $100 billion unfunded liability.
These difficult but necessary steps have allowed the state to begin digging itself out of the deep financial hole that was created over decades. Consider:
- Unemployment has fallen to its lowest point since 2008.
- 250,000 private sector jobs have been created since the governor took office.
- Ratings agencies have been sending positive signals about Illinois’ financial position for the first time in recent memory and all three issued positive statements validating the governor’s budget.
While legislators didn’t do their jobs on the budget, the governor is doing his. He will manage the budget responsibly and find efficiencies wherever possible. He submitted an honest and balanced budget plan and he told the people where he stands.
That’s in stark contrast to Republican candidate for governor Bruce Rauner, who – after running for governor for more than 450 days – has staunchly refused to disclose his own budget plan to the people of Illinois. All Rauner has done is carpet bomb negative robocalls into legislators’ home districts in an attempt to bully them into opposing the budget because it would be bad for his campaign.
It’s eerily similar to his effort to sabotage pension reform last December, when he went so far as to personally dangle campaign contributions in front of legislators to persuade them to vote against a bill that would save taxpayers more than $140 billion.
That’s politics, not leadership.
Illinois has been making a comeback because it has a governor who has made the tough decisions to pay down the bills and cut spending.
And if you want to lead the fifth largest state in America, you better be able to say where you stand. And be specific about it.
Rhetoric is not a plan; it’s just politics.