Governor, Let’s Work Together On Controlling the Cost of Government

In his very first Executive Order, Governor Pritzker instructed that:

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“Every State Agency shall, within 60 days of the effective date of this Executive Order, conduct a review of (a) all statutory obligations, and (b) all audit findings within the last four years and provide a plan to the Office of the Governor detailing steps to ensure statutory compliance and to address audit findings.”

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This call for an examination of the processes of State agencies is a good start in trying to regain the trust of people whose toleration of State government is stretching very thin. I’m fully on board with the idea of taking a deep look at how we spend the money that we take from taxpayers.

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My colleague Dan Swanson has spent some time rummaging through Auditor General reports to see how well agencies are measuring up to their statutory obligations, their compliance and steps to address audit findings. The short answer is: “not very well”. Some of them are shown here:

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Auditor Findings

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Mind you, these are repeated findings by the Auditor General, and the original finding dates are shown on the right of the chart. Many of these go back a lot more than 4 years, and they are just a few of the hundreds of audit reports that can be found online. They all pretty much tell the same story. If agencies have been repeatedly failing to correct audit findings that have been repeatedly issued for years, I doubt an Executive Order mandating that they do so within 60 days will carry much weight.

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Everyone tends to roll their eyes when public officials promise to eliminate “waste, fraud and abuse”. But nobody denies that those things exist. The trick is to figure out what can be done to eliminate it.

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It’s with that in mind that I’ve introduced House Joint Resolution 6 and a House Bill 275 which is modeled on President Reagan’s 1982 Executive Order establishing a private-sector cost study of the agencies of the Federal government, which resulted in the issuance of the 1984 “Grace Report”. In the report, the Grace Commission offered up 2,487 separate recommendations for streamlining government agencies which it estimated would have saved $424 billion over a 3-year period (and that’s in 1984 dollars).

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H.B. 275 creates the Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, which is a private sector panel authorized to undertake a thorough review of Illinois agencies and provide recommendations for improvement. Its goal is to identify inefficiencies, redundancies and insufficient control over the operations of state agencies which result in inadequate services being provided at too high a cost.  It would be charged with recommending improvements that would increase efficiency, reduce costs, enhance accountability and improve administrative control, and would also provide opportunities for managerial improvements over the short and long term, suggesting specific areas where further study could result in additional savings.

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Like the Grace Commission, this Commission will be privately funded by soliciting contributions to be made to a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization as called for in the bill. Commission members would not be paid, and would be charged to present their findings to the Governor and the General Assembly by October 1, 2020.

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Cleaning up audit findings isn’t enough; we must do this deep dive into our agency operations with a focus on finding where outdated and redundant processes can be eliminated or combined. We must also set policies in place which demand greater accountability from those stakeholders which come to the state asking for appropriation of taxpayer money. It’s time for them to show us how well they’ve spent the money we’ve given them before we give them more. In my first term, I was a member of the K-12 Appropriations Committee. I’ve seen firsthand that it’s not now being done.

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This is not an attempt to fix blame or to point fingers at any agency or person. Every organization, public or private, needs a periodic review to find ways to improve its operations. Otherwise it grows sclerotic and gets in the way of its own purpose. But it’s obvious that something more robust than a mere audit is needed. It’s time for the Governor’s office and the General Assembly to step in and shine a light on what’s been allowed to languish for far too long. It’s what we’ve been elected to do.

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Nor is this an attempt to “privatize” our state agencies. We’ve all seen what happens when people run for office pledging to run government “like a business”. Government isn’t a business, it’s the contract we make with ourselves to do the things we can’t do for ourselves. Its purpose is to provide such public services as are necessary to ensure that every person in Illinois can maximize his or her own potential and to provide such services as are required to ensure that the most unfortunate among us can live in dignity and safety.

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For too long the default message from Springfield is to ask the taxpayers for more money, but before taxpayers can be asked for more, we have an obligation to show them that State government is operating as efficiently and effectively as possible. The failure over decades to examine measures to control costs has contributed to ever-increasing demands for more tax revenue, and we’ve reached the point where productive, taxpaying Illinoisans are saying “I’ve had enough,” and are leaving the state to find better opportunities elsewhere.

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I offer this bill to Governor Pritzker as a sign of good faith: a bipartisan attempt to help him in the unenviable task that lays before him, and which lays before all of us charged with the unenviable task of governing Illinois.

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