July 1, Governor Pat Quinn proudly proclaimed that he made tough budget choices to move our state forward. Fresh from issuing $509 million in cuts made with his newly enhanced executive power, another $891 million held in reserve and an executive order aimed at cutting state employee expenses, Quinn acted as if he had stood the hard line on spending. But, like most vague declarations, the devil is in the details. Quinn failed to tell the public that his more than $1 billion in cuts was mostly smoke and mirrors. In reality, Quinn cut very little from the budget, which still carries a $13 billion deficit. Illinois ended this year in the worst financial position in its history.
First, the $891 million that Quinn has ordered held in reserve cannot be classified as a cut. This reserve is nothing more than a gimmick for Quinn until after the November election. Quinn has not provided any substantive indication about the content of this reserve. He has only provided another empty plea for the taxpayers to "trust him." Many speculate that the funds in this reserve have already been promised away. Quinn is simply waiting out the election, after which he will dole it out to its designated recipients. That doesn't sound much like a spending cut to me.
Next, the executive order, albeit a move in the right direction, is hardly the bold display of leadership Quinn would have you believe. The measure is aimed at cutting back state expenses on travel, overtime pay, cell phone use, and state vehicles and leases, while increasing out-of-pocket health care costs for state workers and retirees. These are laudable cuts, but they should have been implemented a long time ago. In fact, I brought the same suggestions of expense reductions to Quinn's attention a year and a half ago, but he wasn't interested. Though Quinn acknowledged Illinois' fiscal emergency, he continued to squander taxpayer money. Now that his feet are held to the fire, he is implementing these overdue cost-saving measures. While it is a move in the right direction, it is a move that should have been made his second day as Governor to set the tone for his administration. Instead, this executive order is merely politically convenient and nothing more.
That leaves the $509 million in cuts Quinn made through his veto powers. These cuts were necessary, but they are a drop in the bucket considering the deficit Illinois faces and a far cry from the $1.4 billion in cuts for which Quinn is seeking credit. The cuts represent a mere 4 percent of the current budget deficit.
Adding insult to injury, Quinn gave 43 salary increases, averaging 11.4 percent, to 35 staffers in the past 15 months while the rest of the state struggles to keep its head above water. Quinn can't defend those unnecessary pay raises, so instead he has played fast and loose with the numbers.
Originally, Quinn said he had cut spending in the governor's office by 25 percent since he took over 17 months ago. However, his staff members told us there was more to the story. Records show the governor's office's payroll is slightly lower this year, however, dozens of employees reporting to the governor's office are paid by other agencies under Quinn's control. Refusing to make real spending reductions, Quinn is playing a shell game with his payroll by burying the facts in misleading figures and bureaucracy. I believe the people of Illinois are too smart to fall for that.
Quinn received robust and unprecedented powers to decide how to spend what money the state has and where to move funds. Playing fast and loose with the numbers may buy Quinn some time, but it doesn't change the facts. Genuine and substantial cuts still need to be made. Quinn can talk in circles until he's blue in the face, but don't let him confuse you. His path to fiscal stability is about to take us over the cliff into insolvency.