For a man who has vowed to “shake up Springfield,” Republican candidate for governor Bruce Rauner isn’t bringing much to the table with less than five months until the November election.
With three caged chickens looking on (a corny and unnecessary prop) at a Chicago news conference Thursday, Rauner began rolling out some of his ideas for righting Illinois’ fiscal wrongs.
His blueprint features a series of safe, lackluster ideas — low-hanging fruit, some might call it — that are exactly what critics expected from a first-time candidate who talks in platitudes and has expressed disdain for almost everyone involved in state government.
Lately, Rauner has taken heat for failing to get into the fiscal nitty-gritty while criticizing moves by Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn and the General Assembly. That’s an advantage challengers have, especially those with no public record of their own.
Unfortunately for the voters and taxpayers of Illinois, Rauner’s proposals fall several billion dollars short of addressing the state’s budget crisis in a meaningful way.
The candidate has said he opposes a permanent extension to Illinois’ 2011 temporary income tax hike, which expires in January, midway through the fiscal year (Fiscal Year 2015) that begins July 1. Without revenue from the tax hike, the next governor must find a way to bridge the gap not only for the second half of the fiscal year, but also for a full $5.2 billion shortfall that will occur in Fiscal Year 2016.
Rauner’s ho-hum ideas at most, based on figures in the blueprint, amount to $1 billion — hardly enough to shake up Springfield, let alone enable him to invest in public education, as he’s said he wants to do. Most of the ideas are short-sighted, unoriginal or lack support showing how the purported savings were calculated.
For example, Rauner says he can achieve $140 million in savings by cracking down on unidentified waste. He offers only examples of spending under the current administration as evidence. He fails to acknowledge the economic development benefit of some of the spending, including money for the state’s bicentennial commission and for a Chicago theater that could jump start the economy of a neighborhood. And he calls $60 million in prison guard overtime wasteful but doesn’t address the cost of wages and benefits that come with hiring additional guards.
Rauner says he would accept no pay or pension as governor — a drop in the bucket — and he would restrict outside employment for legislative leaders — “No more law firms on the side.” But neither offers any true savings, the latter being nothing more than a dig at current legislative leaders.
He also would eliminate various state grant programs, such as money for at-risk youth and after-school programs, calling them “political slush funds” that lack accountability. Everyone knows more oversight of such grant programs is needed in Illinois, but that doesn’t mean all grant programs are slush funds for politicians.
And even though he criticizes missing state computers and other equipment as wasteful, he offers no ideas for ensuring the state has the personnel and the kind of record-keeping systems needed to prevent such losses in the future.
His idea of overhauling Central Management Services has merit, and merging the comptroller’s and treasurer’s offices has support among some officeholders. But on the whole, Rauner’s blueprint lacks the punch voters want from a candidate who says he can fix Illinois. It also shows a naïve perception of how government functions.
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.
—GateHouse News Service