03/01/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Do You Think 700 Million Dollars is a Lot of Money?

These days, state and local governments are struggling to make ends meet, provide services to citizens and balance their budgets. They're scrounging for every penny they can find.

What if I told you we could have an extra 700 million dollars for Cook County?

Last year, Todd Stroger told us that a new, record sales tax was the only option for closing Cook County's budget gap. This year, he tells us the same thing about a costly new borrowing scheme.

I knew then, and I know today, that there's a better way: cutting waste, inefficiency, and reinventing government.

Since 2001, I've done what every elected official should be doing in government right now. My staff and I took a look at the books, thought outside the box and proposed reforms. As it happens, those reforms would have saved taxpayers as much money as Todd Stroger's record tax hike has cost them.

Since 2003, my budget cuts and government restructuring would add up to a minimum of $700 million. This year alone, those cuts would have saved $143 million. Clearly if these were in place, we wouldn't have needed the record tax hike - in fact, we could be on a path toward returning money.

Saving $700 million is not just about doing things like minimizing overtime expenses, capping consultant fees, and saving energy. It's about changing the mindset of government. It's about challenging the status quo. It's about putting taxpayers' needs ahead of government's needs. It's about reinventing government.

I've seen it with my own eyes: When government takes money from the poor and the middle class, everyone suffers. Government would not have to do that if everyone would focus on reforming its budget.

So when the Cook County budget comes up for a vote in the coming week, we will be dealing, yet again, with a patchwork set of fixes, an ill-conceived borrowing scheme, and a lack of attention to the real problems.

The times are too serious for our elected leaders to keep sweeping these problems aside. There are solutions and many bright people have already shown us the way forward.

Now, we need political leaders to take up the mantle of reform and bring real change to Illinois


(to see the reports I've authored, go to my website)