Out of Balance

balance-154516_1280.pngFor over a decade, our state spending has been greater than the tax revenue we’ve taken in. Our state constitution required our budgets to be balanced, but instead of “balance,” the General Assembly used fund transfers and short-term borrowing to conceal over-spending. To the outside observer, those accounting tricks made it look like there was sufficient incoming revenue to cover the outgoing expenditures. But the whole scheme was a lie.

Essentially, when the credit card bill came due, we didn’t pay it off: we kept spending too much, and just transferred our balance to another card. The problem wasn’t on the income side, either. Our tax revenue has been generally healthy, enough to fund a proper state government. Had the General Assembly told the various special interests in Springfield, “no more,” we would have spent plenty of money, just not more money than we had coming in.

Predictably, Speaker Mike Madigan and his supporters disagree with this assessment. They were in charge for that decade of over-spending, because Madigan drew the legislative maps for the General Assembly, ensuring Democratic super-majorities in the House and Senate.

But that all changed in 2015, when the new governor came into office. He, along with the Republicans in the General Assembly, said “enough.” Enough to the over-spending, the tricks, and the lies. We found ourselves in a deep, deep hole—and the only way out of a hole like this is to first stop digging.

We’ve essentially been at a stalemate ever since. For the past year and a half, our state has operated without a budget: the spending of the state has instead been made through court orders, consent decrees, and short-term, limited legislation.

The four legislative leaders and the governor have met a couple times since veto session ended on December 1. The governor offered to Madigan that he was willing to consider a tax increase to cover the budget hole, but only if significant reforms can be made, to create jobs and clean up state government. However, Madigan responded publicly that they should do the budget first before talking reforms. So, the governor replied asking Madigan what his budget proposal was. The answer: “we’re working on it.” At that point, the governor said he’d call the next meeting as soon as Madigan’s proposal is ready. That was two weeks ago.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been part of several meetings of the reform working group, which is currently focused on worker’s compensation cost reduction. Manufacturing companies regularly tell me that our worker’s compensation costs are the highest in the Midwest, making us less competitive for jobs in that field and others.

Yet, you can tell that there’s no great willingness to compromise in these meetings. Agreements are few and far between, limited primarily to minor issues that the parties should agree on anyway.

I won’t sugarcoat it for you: Springfield is a very dark place. But when things are darkest, the light shines brighter. Here’s hoping that the Christmas story in some way rubs off on our state’s elected officials. May they see the Light emerging out of the darkness and embrace the grace and peace of Christmas. And then, with that inspiration, deliver a brighter future to the people of Illinois.

In the Breen household, we are having a wonderful time preparing for “Baby’s First Christmas.” May you and your family be blessed with the full measure of Christmas joy!

 


Compromise is a Two-Way Street

two-way-traffic-148887_1280.pngThis past week concluded the General Assembly’s veto session, and tensions were high in Springfield. I saw reasons both for hope and for dismay in the proceedings. On the hope side, the legislative leaders and the governor successfully hammered out an energy bill. That bill will keep two of our state’s six nuclear plants from going offline, along with bringing back into Illinois hundreds of millions of dollars in renewable energy spending that had been sent out of state.

The initial version of the energy bill was bloated, spending way too much money and suffering under the weight of pork projects for various interest groups. Without major changes, that bill was dead on arrival—but the stakes of failure were high. Without action by Springfield, the plants shut down, taking 10% of our state’s energy capacity offline and driving our electric rates through the roof, along with putting 4200 Illinoisans out of work and delivering a $1.2 billion blow to our state’s economy. But the governor and his staff set to work with the legislature and affected parties, driving a tough bargain on the bill. The governor demanded a guarantee that the plants would stay open at least ten years, removed the various costly special interest giveaways, and imposed strict caps to ensure residents and businesses don’t overpay for electricity. And after vigorous debate, the measure passed on close votes in both the House and Senate, with a commitment for the governor’s signature.

At the end of the day, not everyone got what they wanted in the energy bill, nor was the bill perfect. But in the face of certain catastrophe, the legislature and executive branch came together and rapidly negotiated a complex bill, to provide energy security to the people of Illinois. The way I see it, if you change the subject from “energy” to “budget,” and this looks a lot like a model for the two parties to come together for a tough, principled, and swift compromise for a balanced budget.

Now, while the parties were coming together to avert the energy crisis, there was cause for dismay. You may recall that, back at the end of June, the parties agreed on a stopgap budget, to put off the tough negotiations until after the pressure of the November election passed. Well, since the election, the governor has asked for meetings with the legislative leaders, but there doesn’t appear to be much urgency or substance emerging from them.

And this past week, Senate President John Cullerton repudiated a pension reform agreement, which was part of the foundation for the stopgap deal in June. As part of that deal, the General Assembly agreed to pay this year’s “normal cost” for Chicago teacher pensions (similar to the way the state pays the normal cost for suburban teacher pensions), but only if the parties came together to put in place pension reform that would benefit the whole state. That meant the General Assembly passed a bill to provide $215 million to the Chicago teacher pension fund—the theory being that the City of Chicago would push its legislators to negotiate and vote for statewide pension reform, so as not to lose the money for its own pension fund. The money for Chicago pensions was “held” until the end of the year, with the understanding that the governor would veto the measure if no agreement was reached on pension reform. The terms of the deal were known by all legislators and widely reported in the press.

That’s why everyone in the Capitol was shocked on Thursday when President Cullerton claimed to the media that there was no deal—no strings attached to the $215 million payment from the state treasury—and that the governor should just sign the bill and send the money to Chicago to bail out its pensions. In response to Cullerton’s denial of the well-understood agreement, the governor vetoed the bill a few hours later.

Negotiating a budget package isn’t just about drafting language—it requires trust. Trust that the other side will keep their agreement to support certain reform measures at a later date, trust that moneys appropriated will be spent as promised down the road, and the like. This latest breach of trust may prove a significant barrier to reaching compromise on a balanced budget and reforms to fix our state.

As we close this General Assembly, it’s one step forward, and one backward. Here’s hoping in the new year that the successful step forward, for compromise, will help the parties to heal and repair the step backward, the breach of trust. The stakes are too high and the harm to our state too great to continue without a balanced budget.


Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbors’ Goods with Red Light “Scameras”

red_light_camera.jpgSeven years ago, I led a protest against red light cameras in Lombard, at the local headquarters of a multinational red light camera company. Organizing mostly on the internet, we worked with folks across Chicagoland to stop the spread of these cameras, urging that red light cameras are “unsafe, unwanted, and unnecessary.” Soon thereafter, plans were shelved in neighboring communities to expand red light camera usage, and the cameras came down in Lombard. Some towns even followed Lombard’s example and removed their cameras altogether.

Well, red light cameras are back in a big way—at the primary intersection serving Oak Brook Mall, Route 83 and 22nd Street. The story is a strange one, stemming from the unique geography of municipal boundaries near the mall. You see, that busy intersection is inside the boundaries of Oakbrook Terrace, while the neighboring mall is inside of the Village of Oak Brook.

In 2012, the city fathers of Oakbrook Terrace tried to put up a red light camera at the intersection, hoping to cash in on visitors to Oak Brook Mall. However, since a state road is involved, the approval of the Illinois Department of Transportation was required.

After a long delay, the request was denied earlier this year by IDOT, on the basis that there were not sufficient safety reasons to have cameras at that intersection. However, Oakbrook Terrace tried again, and without warning to the public, IDOT reversed course and approved the cameras, on the basis of “violations”—in other words, because the cameras would be able to snag a lot of folks turning right-on-red without coming to a complete stop.

Yes, IDOT approved the cameras solely because they’ll make Oakbrook Terrace a lot of money, and despite finding that there are not sufficient safety reasons to have cameras at that intersection.

The danger in putting up cameras right at the entrance to Oak Brook Mall is that folks will boycott the mall, just as many did when Schaumburg put cameras outside of Woodfield Mall. After less than a year, facing massive protests and loss of shoppers at their mall, the village fathers in Schaumburg wisely removed the cameras.

The fear here is that, unlike the Schaumburg situation, where that village was losing sales tax revenue because of its red light camera, Oakbrook Terrace may not feel similar pain if sales decline substantially at the neighboring Oak Brook Mall.

There may also be further impact throughout the area, since over the past ten years, a wonderful shopping corridor has developed along Butterfield Road and 22nd Street, anchored by Oak Brook Mall and Lombard’s Yorktown Mall. That corridor benefits all of our local communities, in a variety of ways, whether making our communities more appealing places to live, providing jobs, or bringing in needed sales and property tax revenue. The friendly competition between municipalities to bring in the latest and most exciting restaurants, shopping opportunities, and hotels is rightly a source of pride for all of our towns.

But a red light camera doesn’t add any economic value to our shared corridor—a red light camera at an entry intersection to our corridor is a parasite, intended only to suck money out of unsuspecting shoppers and commuters. Such a camera does nothing to improve safety but instead risks harming all of the businesses and towns along the corridor.

At this point, I’m hearing rumors of boycotts of Oakbrook Terrace businesses, but that seems a bit premature to me. I think the first thing folks should do is contact the city officials in Oakbrook Terrace to respectfully express your displeasure. You can call Oakbrook Terrace at (630) 941-8300.

I also intend to put forward legislation to prevent IDOT from allowing red light cameras at this intersection—or at any intersection where there is no proven safety reason to do so. Legislation takes a while, though, so the quickest way to remedy this situation is for Oakbrook Terrace to reverse their current course of action.

Illinois is broken, and we all have a responsibility to work together to fix it. More red light cameras won’t help us grow jobs or reform government. They’ll just take more money from hard-working Illinoisans, without providing any benefit in return.


Moving Forward

road-166543_1280.jpgThis has been the most unique political campaign season of our lifetimes. This was one of those rare election cycles that provided a “full-body experience”—it hit us in the head, the heart, and the gut. There were even widespread reports of folks having mental and physical breakdowns, over the twists and turns of the campaigns.

After such a time, there are good questions to be asked about whether we can go forward from here. After all, campaigns aren’t an end in themselves. Campaigns are the means to our shared end of choosing who will govern us. As I write these words, I don’t know who has won the various races across the state and country. But I do know that, no matter how tired we are after this campaign, the real work—the work we’re elected to do—is entirely before us.

We are scheduled to head back to Springfield next week, to a very uncertain agenda. I hear rumors of every stripe: some say we’ll achieve a “grand bargain,” with reform and a balanced budget, before the next General Assembly is sworn in, but others say that Madigan won’t allow any bills to move that could give Rauner a “win” to tout in his 2018 re-election campaign. The House Republican Caucus will look different in January, too, due to many retirements of longtime members. In fact, over half of the House GOP will be relative newcomers, like me, who were first elected in 2014 or 2016. These aren’t career politicians, and you should see a lot of energy coming from this group.

At the national level, the crystal ball is even cloudier. The substantive issues are up in the air, from jobs and trade, to immigration and national security. Between the President, the House, and the Senate, you have groups of people with very divergent agendas, all of which have to be reconciled into a coherent national policy. Many other important issues, not directly related to policy, must also now be hashed out, including how to handle the Supreme Court vacancy, the pending criminal investigations, and the selection of the new President’s staff.

On that front, I’d say the most important question is, who do we trust to be our Attorney General, the chief prosecutor and law enforcement officer for the country? Who should be our Secretary of State, the primary representative of American interests and policy to foreign governments? And who should be appointed to the thousands of other positions a new president must fill, for jobs high and low throughout the federal government? There’s an old political adage that “personnel is policy”—a president can come up with great policy statements, but without good people to execute those policies, they’re not worth the paper they’re printed on.

Six months from now, we should know the answers to these questions. But it could be a rough ride in the short term, so buckle up! 


Choose Wisely

vote-1319435_1280.pngVoting is underway throughout the Land of Lincoln. As folks here go to the polls, they’re seeing a state government that is spending more than it takes in, and it was recently announced that Illinois’ general fund is expected to be nearly empty by the end of the month.

Due to the lack of action by the General Assembly majority to adopt a balanced budget, Comptroller Leslie Munger has stated that general fund payments into the pension systems will have to be delayed. Leslie Munger has the herculean task of trying to juggle the state’s inadequate moneys, to ensure payments for the most vital government services. She stopped regularly paying General Assembly members earlier this year, instead putting their checks on the same payment schedule as the small businesses who provide services to the state. 

Let’s just say that Leslie is not popular right now among the political class in Springfield—every time I go to an event where there are legislators from the other side, they gripe about not getting their money on time! That was Leslie’s point: local nonprofits and small businesses are waiting a year or more to be paid, and she felt that legislators would better understand the pain that their inaction has caused, if those legislators had to experience the same delayed payment schedule.

We’re also facing a tougher environment for jobs and economic growth in Illinois, compared to the rest of the country. We lost another 800 manufacturing jobs this month, and across all sectors, we’re almost 40,000 jobs below where we were in 2000. And that’s with 500,000 more people living in Illinois today, as compared with 2000.

I’ve written here about the possibility for compromise and reform in Illinois—whether it’s getting property taxes under control, so folks aren’t forced out of their homes, or reducing our worker’s compensation costs, which are so high that they keep existing companies from hiring more workers and new companies from starting or moving here in the first place. 

But all that compromise and reform work is on hold, pending the outcome of this election. These issues are in your hands now. You get to choose who you want to send to Springfield to work on those reforms.

Some elected officials on the ballot will be more willing to work together on reform, and some will be less willing. Some want taxes to go up without any changes to government, and some believe that we first have to tighten our belts before looking at additional taxes. Some believe that things in state government are just fine and will fix themselves, and some believe that the risks to the health and well-being of our state have never been higher.

These are the stakes in our state elections. Voting is one of the most blessed duties—and awesome responsibilities—of citizens in a free republic. It’s now your turn to decide: choose wisely!


Good People Can Make a Difference

board-978179_1280.jpgIn the wake of the scandal at the College of DuPage, the General Assembly demanded an independent audit of the books and practices at COD. When the College’s Board of Trustees turned over after the 2015 election, the new board members agreed to the audit. Almost a year-and-a-half later, the auditor’s 253-page report has now issued, painting a detailed picture of government bureaucrats run amok.

They ignored and flaunted relevant laws and policies put in place to protect taxpayer dollars. Over half the purchases reviewed by the auditor were made in a “no bid” manner—and even when bids were properly solicited, administrators didn’t follow the Illinois laws that ensure transparency in awarding contracts. On top of that, the former Board of Trustees didn’t regularly evaluate the college president, who has since been fired by the new board, despite policies requiring annual reviews. Nor did that former board provide proper oversight over the college’s many millions of dollars in investments of taxpayer moneys.

The audit also highlighted the excessive compensation and severance paid to the former college president by the old board, almost double that of any other community college president in Illinois.

But the real story here is how this audit even came to be, because the audit of COD had to be approved by the COD Board itself—and when that vote was taken in April 2015, it was by a bare majority, 4-3. The only reason the audit demanded by the General Assembly happened was because three new board members were elected (to join the lone reformer on the old board). These three are the reason you and I are now able to see an independent, detailed review of the various issues at the College.

You should remember the names of these three brave public servants: Deanne Mazzochi, a mom from Elmhurst and leader of the group, Frank Napolitano of Bartlett, and Charles Bernstein of Wheaton. They had nearly no elected service, but they took on the local political establishment and won the three open seats on the COD Board, in an incredible upset. And the “reward” of their victory was to take on the herculean task of cleaning up a college mired in scandal. These board members are true public servants, serving in an unpaid role as trustees to save a community gem, our beloved College of DuPage. 

I get to see the best and the worst of public officials in Springfield, and sometimes it’s disheartening: you wonder if, for the sake of turning Illinois around, there are enough good people out there, willing to serve for the public interest and not to line their own pockets. I take great inspiration from these reformers at COD, newcomers to politics who stepped forward to run for and serve during a time of crisis. While I’m singling out Deanne and her compatriots, there are folks like them at every level of Illinois government—but we need more!

You may find yourself in a place where you are able to run for office. It’s certainly not easy, nor is it always fun. Unless your definition of “fun” is knocking on the doors of thousands of complete strangers in rain, snow, sleet, and hail! But if your skills, ability, and family situation allows you that opportunity, maybe you are being called to serve. Either way, you can support honest, ethical, and thoughtful candidates for office.

When those candidates come to your door, please give them encouragement, even if you disagree with their politics. I can give you many examples in my own involvement where a kind word or a friendly face at the door propelled me onward, to continue knocking on doors and reaching a few more folks, despite the rain, snow, or freezing cold. And if you like the person and their policies, then go ahead and put up a yard sign, volunteer to help, and tell your neighbors and friends about them. By your efforts—whether supporting those who run for office or running yourself—you can help ensure that our community, our county, and our state are the kinds of places where our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren can live, grow, and prosper.


Bipartisanship

meeting-1002800_1280.jpgThe Fall campaign is in full swing across the country and the State of Illinois. Some themes span both state and federal election, especially the feeling of a substantial majority of Americans that the system is “rigged.” Other issues are necessarily specific to our state, like the economic and government reforms we need to be competitive with our neighbor states. From the campaign ads, you might think that there’s no common ground or possibility of reform. But based on my private conversations with other legislators, I would instead urge that reform, though difficult, is not out of reach.

Behind the scenes, legislators from both sides of the recognize that our economic regulations and system of delivering government services are broken. This recognition was part of the reason for the Reform Working Group, which I was recently appointed to. The eight legislators of the Group—two each from the House Democrats, House Republicans, Senate Democrats, and Senate Republicans—have come together to have the compromise conversations in a more structured way, in hopes of moving our state politics forward.

The issues being dealt with by the Reform Working Group are not necessarily “partisan” in the classic sense. There’s nothing partisan about recognizing that Illinois property taxes are the highest in the country or that our state’s worker’s compensation system is one of the most expensive in the country.

And there’s substantial consensus on these items. We’ve seen majorities of the legislature at various times support a property tax freeze, as long as other reforms can be had to ensure the efficient delivery of local government services.

Everyone agrees that our worker’s compensation costs are too high and are driving companies—especially manufacturers—out of Illinois. We can find compromise to rein in those costs. Our worker’s compensation system exists to care for workers who were injured on the job, but our cost for providing that system is much higher than in our neighboring states.

This is one area where, despite public posturing, there is substantial room for agreement across partisan lines. For instance, Massachusetts has a much less expensive worker’s compensation system than we do, and that state is a much more Democrat-leaning state than Illinois. Whether it's the people of “blue” Massachusetts or “red” Missouri, folks in those states appear to be pretty happy with their respective systems. We can provide provide proper care for workers without imposing excessive costs to employ folks in Illinois.

Procurement reform is another area where experts estimated we could save anywhere from $500 million-$1 billion per year. Procurement reform is about putting systems and processes in place to help governments buy products and services at a lower price and more efficiently. There’s nothing “Republican” or “Democrat” about getting a better price for office supplies!

Even pension reform provides opportunities for our two parties to work together. With the recent move by the Teachers Retirement System board of directors to lower the expected rate of return on pension investments, the state will likely owe over $400 million per year more in pension payments than before. With pension payments already taking up a quarter of our state budget by some estimates, this is another massive budget hit. Without reform of our system, we’ll only continue to see those numbers increase. On pension reform, our Republican Governor started the negotiating process by adopting the most recent proposal from the Senate Democratic Leader. Again, this is an area where the heated rhetoric between partisans isn’t reflected in the real potential for the parties to reach a compromise.

Another issue of great concern is local school mandates. Despite enjoying well-regarded schools in our suburbs, Springfield has added over 100 different mandates on our local school districts over the past decade or two. These mandates are often inefficient or duplicative of other programs, unnecessarily driving up the cost of providing an excellent education for the kids of our area. What’s worse, some of these mandates are imposed on our better-performing suburban school districts while the worse-performing Chicago public schools get a pass! From my conversations with other legislators, I know that we can find substantial common ground to reduce unnecessary mandates on our local schools coming from Springfield.

There are still massive challenges facing our state government, including fixing our out-of-balance budget. But we have plenty of important areas where compromise is possible and achievable. As compromise builds on compromise, the trust between the partisans will naturally increase, allowing even greater achievements. We all know it took decades to get us into this mess, and while turning Illinois around won’t be immediate, we can make a good strong start today, in these areas.

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Margie and I would like to thank everyone who has expressed good wishes to us about little Matthew. He is now 6 weeks old, and he’s healthy and growing rapidly!


It's a Boy!

Matthew_Photo_1.jpgMy wife Margie and I are pleased to announce that we are now the parents of a beautiful baby boy, Matthew Elijah Breen! It has been a difficult path over the past three years, and we had several near misses over that time: even one where we’d loaded up the car with baby items and found out along the way that the birth mom had changed her mind. Throughout, Margie and I have been privileged to have folks throughout Lombard thinking about us and praying for us.

All those prayers were answered this past August 9th, when our little Matthew burst into the world, 700 miles away in Virginia. We were blessed to be there to meet him soon after he was born, and we spent the first two weeks with Matthew in a hotel room in the Cavalier State, waiting for the interstate adoption paperwork to clear.

You’d laugh if you watched us navigate all the “first-time-parent” cliché moments, from the first sponge bath for the squirming, screaming little guy, to the blurry-eyed cleaning up of his 3 a.m. diaper explosions. And we’ve both been awed at those quiet times late at night when we each realize that we’re no longer (just) “Aunt Margie & Uncle Peter” but now “Mommy & Daddy.”

Probably the toughest part of a new baby is learning to operate on very little sleep. I turned 40 last week: the all-nighters and near-all-nighters are a lot tougher now then they were when I was in my 20’s. I also get varied reports from friends and family on whether the sleeplessness gets any better—as one experienced mom told me, “you won’t sleep soundly again till he moves out of the house!”

The other part you don’t fully realize, until baby arrives, is that every carefully crafted plan you had is out the window. Baby is now in charge of the schedule!

This column is generally about politics and policy, and briefly on that point, I was reminded by a friend that we’ve brought a baby into Illinois at a time when many folks are leaving, all because of a government that has severely damaged our economy and communities. But if you really want to view the most compelling reason to fix our state, look at a brand new baby, bursting with potential and growth. We can’t pass on a corrupt and broken government to these little ones, and we can’t in good conscience load them up with tens of thousands of dollars in debt—all before they’re even potty-trained!

Finally, I’d like to say something about our adoption experience, because it seems that adoption is one of the most misunderstood institutions in modern America. In our case, we’ve gotten to know the birth mom and her family well, and we remain in regular contact with them. Our birth mom, faced with a unique and challenging situation, carefully reviewed her options. She reviewed many hundreds, if not thousands, of profiles of potential adoptive parents, and she chose us to be the parents of her baby boy. We visited before the birth, and she was able to see our joy at becoming parents, and we know that she found strength and comfort in that joy.

And the circumstances of our adoption are not unique. Many birth moms today choose a more “open” adoption, and there are many thousands upon thousands of couples just waiting to be chosen to become parents. So, if one of your family members or friends finds themselves in a difficult or untimely pregnancy, you can feel confident in recommending that they consider adoption, as a positive and viable option for them.

In our case, we’re just over the moon about our little Matthew, and we can’t imagine our lives without him.


Cleaning House in Illinois Will Take a lot of Elbow Grease

lego-cleaning_.jpgIn my first term as state representative, we have seen some success in cleaning up Illinois government, with the passage of several major reform bills, including ensuring public meetings are truly “open” to the public, making end-of-career pension spiking more difficult and transparent, and reforming the way severance packages are doled out for government employees. These are just a few ideas that made it to Governor Rauner’s desk in bill form. Of course, there’s still much to be done!

One of the key reform measures that I believe would be a huge help is the referendum to take politics out of the way we draw district boundary lines for state representatives and senators. This important initiative, called “Independent Maps,” received well more than enough valid signatures to be placed on the November General Election ballot, but House Speaker Michael Madigan’s lawyer stepped in with a legal challenge. The future of this referendum now hangs in the balance, after a recent decision by a Cook County Circuit Court judge to strike the measure off our November 8 General Election ballot. The Independent Maps group has some very fine lawyers, and they have said they’ll mount a vigorous appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court, which will likely take the case on an expedited basis.

Why would anyone oppose a good government measure like fair and independent maps? Politics, of course: Speaker Madigan is working against the measure to protect his supermajority in the Illinois House. He draws the district lines, keeping his preferred representatives in office for a very long time, which gives him the power to block good ideas and to push forward really bad ones (like a budget that’s $7 billion out of balance!). It’s the same thing for our state’s unprecedented budget stalemate—Madigan believes that the politics of a stalemate will tilt in his direction. And avoiding serious votes keeps his vulnerable legislators away from possible electoral danger.

The other part of Illinois government that needs a deep cleaning is the office of the Auditor General. Frank Mautino was appointed to that position in October of 2015 for a 10-year term. As Auditor General, Mautino has the responsibility of watching how the State of Illinois spends its money. Of any official in state government, the Auditor General has to be squeaky clean. Mautino was one of Madigan’s chief lieutenants in the House as state representative and is currently under investigation by both state and federal investigators. They are looking into some unusual spending from his now-closed campaign account. For example, Mautino spent $200,000 on gas and car repairs over 10 years, at a gas station owned by a local alderman. That’s a lot of repairs! He could have purchased ten new vehicles for all that money. He also made $94,000 in repayments to a local bank for a $26,000 loan—where the excess funds actually went is what investigators want to know.

I have been calling for Mautino to come clean for months, and he has refused. At this point, having given him every benefit of the doubt, I’ve cosponsored a resolution to remove him from office. Unfortunately, Speaker Mike Madigan is the one who controls whether the House will consider and vote on the resolution! The right thing to do would be for him to step down, but if not, we need him out immediately.

It took us decades to get into this mess, so reform is going to take a while, often in fits and starts. But there’s light at the end of the tunnel and movement—albeit too slow—toward a new and better future for our state. Sunlight is said to be the best disinfectant, and together, we can keep shining it on the corrupt and dark corners of our government.


Half a Loaf

bread-534574_1280.jpgOn the last day of June, the final day of our state’s fiscal year, a deal was cut to fund K-12 education for the next school year and to fund critical state services until after the Fall elections. But a month before, when Speaker Michael Madigan sent the General Assembly home on May 31, our two sides couldn’t have been farther apart.

Compared to the bedlam of the end of regular session in May, the General Assembly was positively subdued on June 30. Those last few days of May featured the supermajority ramming through a budget that would have spent roughly $40 billion, even though the state is only expected to take in $33 billion in taxes. On top of the $7 billion hole that budget would have ripped in our backlog of unpaid bills, Speaker Madigan only allowed members one hour to read that 500-page measure before debating and voting on it.

And in those final days of May, Democratic leaders said that any tough votes on budget and reform would be put off until after the November elections. In response, on May 31, Gov. Rauner urged the General Assembly to pass a stopgap funding measure to keep the state operating through the November elections and to pass a K-12 school funding measure to ensure that schools would open on time in the Fall. His proposal was summarily rejected.

Why the change? Well, you and other citizens of Illinois got mad, and got active.

After massive public uproar, House and Senate members forced their legislative leaders back to the negotiating table to reach an agreement. The compromise is not perfect—nowhere near it—nor is it a full budget. There are significant spending reductions, including a freeze on lawmaker pay, but the economic and governmental reforms we need to turn Illinois around were put off, until after the election. There was some movement on pension reform, but again, the leaders of the supermajority in the legislature have pushed back any detail work to November.

I’ve read a lot of hyperbole since the deal was enacted, including much criticism. Those critics are correct that the General Assembly should have stayed until its work was done: to enact a full balanced budget and substantial reforms, to turn around our economy and fix our government.

But despite this being a partial measure, it is progress. First, “We the People” were heard by the members of the General Assembly, and the majority party in the legislature finally allowed a compromise measure to be voted on by all the members. Second, kids will be able to attend school in the Fall, and critical state services will be maintained. Third and finally, for the first time in a while, this November’s elections in Illinois may be about real policy and issues, not personalities.

It looks like we’re finally going to have a robust, substantive debate on where the state should go—and how best to get there. The only thing holding Illinois back from the kind of economic success being experienced by our neighbor states in the Midwest is our broken state government. May the best plan win!