Clueless in Illinois

Thursday, July 08, 2010

" Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has handed out raises — some of more than 20 percent — to his staff while proclaiming a message of 'shared sacrifice' and planning spending cuts of $1.4 billion because the state is awash in debt."
—The Associated Press, July 6, 2010.

"Illinois ended (Fiscal 2010) in the worst fiscal position in its history. … (T)he delay in paying vouchers was 153 working days this June compared to 99 days at this time last year."
—Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes, quarterly report, July 7, 2010.

Either of those passages is enough to suggest that the governor of Illinois is oblivious to the plight of his recession-battered constituents — and too undisciplined to do the job he inherited from Rod Blagojevich. Coming on successive days, though, the Associated Press report and the comptroller's year-end numbers suggest that Pat Quinn's administration just isn't up to running a multibillion-dollar operation.

The AP story, drawn from records obtained under the state's Freedom of Information Act, said that in the past 15 months, Quinn has given 43 salary increases averaging 11.4 percent to 35 staffers. The governor's response, as quoted by the news service? "We have fewer people doing more, and that's what the public wants."

Fewer people doing more? The AP said payroll records list 124 employees in the governor's office and affiliated budget office in May, compared to 125 in July 2009 and 122 in February 2009, just after Quinn took office.

And that debunking of Quinn's claim may not be the end of the story: The AP also reported that dozens of employees reporting to the governor's office are paid by other agencies under Quinn's control.


Quinn's campaign, clearly sensitive to the embarrassment the AP story is causing him, on Wednesday evening issued a defensive press release that began: "Since assuming office, the Governor has cut his budget by nearly $2.5 million dollars, cutting over 35 percent from the budget of the Office of the Governor through FY2011."

Note, though, that the press release gives Quinn a full fiscal year — until June 30, 2011 — to make those cuts. But the damage already has been done: Illinoisans from Zion to Cairo now know that it took a FOIA request from a news organization to unearth evidence of raises for Quinn's staffers during his time of "shared sacrifice."

So much for the governor's assertions in a news conference last week that his administration is a keen steward of taxpayer dollars. Remember, this is the governor who, rather than reshaping how state government spends, wants to extract billions more in taxes from his citizens. He also wants to add another $3.7 billion in payments to state pension funds to the outstanding debts and unfunded retirement obligations those citizens already must cover.


The comptroller's report suggests that the already insolvent Illinois, unable to pay bills as they come due, is destined to become even more of a deadbeat than it is today. As of June 30, "the backlog of unpaid bills and fund transfers in the Illinois Office of the Comptroller stood at $4.712 billion. This compares to last year's end of year payables of $2.785 billion." And when the last bills finally arrive for the fiscal year that ended last week, Hynes expects "the amount of money required to pay for fiscal year 2010's obligations will be at an unprecedented level — perhaps approaching $6 billion. …"

Once again a big share of this year's revenues will be spent paying last year's bills — many months late. The Hynes report concludes that, barring intervening variables, "the state will likely end fiscal year 2011 with a General Revenue Fund bill backlog significantly higher than that at the end of fiscal year 2010."

Yet the governor who last year promised to "cut, cut, cut" state government has been insulting citizens by quietly giving his employees nice raises.

We know that sort of thing passes for the norm in state government. Thousands of union employees started July with pay raises and job protection that Quinn preserved in a deal announced — no doubt by sheer coincidence — just days before the primary election.

But out here in taxpaying Illinois — where many people have accepted frozen or reduced wages because that means they still have jobs — the governor looks downright clueless.