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Friday, April 24, 2015
An Examination of Governor Rauner's Budget-Cutting Rhetoric (by Ralph Martire)
“Governing is a lot more difficult than campaigning.
“On the campaign trail, a candidate frequently benefits from using vague rhetoric that sounds good but provides little in the way of detail. Just ask Gov. Bruce Rauner. As a candidate, he pledged to get Illinois' fiscal house in order, primarily by rejiggering its budget to focus state spending on ‘essential’ services, while cutting ‘nonessential’ programs.
“Candidate Rauner insisted this was needed because Illinois has a spending problem, not a revenue problem, which sounded pretty logical. Unfortunately, after getting elected, a candidate's broadly appealing yet superficial campaign rhetoric usually gets exposed for the sophistry it is.
“Reality is tough that way. In the case of Rauner's campaign rhetoric, the inevitable exposé is coming from an unexpected source: the governor himself and key members of his administration.
“Start with the contention that Illinois has a spending problem, not a revenue problem. If that were truly the case, it indeed would be possible to redress a significant portion of Illinois' fiscal woes by cutting ‘nonessential’ spending. So when confronted with a $1.6 billion shortfall in the current fiscal year, you'd expect the governor's team would identify all those ‘nonessential’ services and propose giving them the ax. And you'd be wrong.
“As the Rauner administration quickly discovered, it's difficult to categorize things like child care for working parents, staffing levels at prisons and court reporters as ‘nonessential.’ This in turn led to a deal with the Democratic-controlled General Assembly to avert some $1.3 billion in potential cuts by raising that amount in revenue through a sweep of various special funds. Mind you, this left $300 million to cut, an amount Rauner apparently believed was too severe. Shortly after announcing the deal, he emphasized that ‘our administration had actually advocated more sweeping and fewer cuts.’
“This is interesting because it shows, in both words and action, that Rauner recognizes that two core aspects of his campaign rhetoric don't pass the reality test. First and foremost, it demonstrates that spending on nonessential fluff isn't the problem. Indeed, the services being cut are crucial for many Illinois families. And if he didn't get that before Good Friday, he certainly did after.
“In what's been dubbed the ‘Good Friday Massacre,’ Rauner's administration proposed trimming an additional $26 million from the current budget, in part by cutting services for individuals with autism and burial funds for the indigent. One can describe in many ways the programs that allow poor families to bury deceased loved ones with dignity or that help autistic individuals attain a basic quality of life, but ‘nonessential’ isn't among them. Predictably, the public outcry forced reconsideration of the cuts.
“Second, there's the implicit recognition by Rauner that more revenue is needed to support core services. Apparently, this need is so glaring that it justifies using one-time revenue obtained through fund sweeps to plug the current spending gap — which works, of course, only for the current year. Next year, there will be no revenue available to support the $1.3 billion in spending that was so ‘essential’ this year that special funds had to be raided to cover them.
“Why settle for this implicit acknowledgement of Illinois' unambiguous need for more revenue, when explicit recognition is readily available? Objecting to some proposed cuts that would hit poor children particularly hard, Sen. Mattie Hunter, D-Chicago, asked Rauner appointee Gregory Bassi, acting director of human services, whether money was ‘more important than the children of Illinois.’ In his response, Bassi acknowledged that children ‘are obviously more important, but you can't support the children of the state if you don’t have the resources to do it.’
“He's exactly right. The problem isn't wasteful or nonessential spending. It's a lack of revenue. And it's the governor's job to deal with real problems, no matter how inconsistent with campaign rhetoric.”
Ralph Martire is executive director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, a bipartisan fiscal policy think tank.
This article was published in the State-Journal Register, April 22nd.