Watchdogs make New Year’s resolutions too, so here’s how the Better Government Association can shine a brighter light on government and hold public officials more accountable in 2013:
Elevate our role in the fight for pension reform, the state’s biggest single challenge. We can’t have good government as long as our overcommitted, underfunded pension system gobbles up an ever-increasing percentage of tax dollars and shortchanges everything else — schools, health care, human services and economic development. Pension reform, which also means outlawing scams perpetrated by insiders to improperly sweeten their own pensions, should be the top priority for state lawmakers when they return to Springfield after New Year’s, and we’ll keep reminding them.
Open a BGA office in Springfield. Pension reform is only one reason this is important: The state capitol is where the most money is spent, the biggest decisions are made, the fewest people are watching and government is most dysfunctional. So we’ll be teaming up with Downstate business, civic, media and government leaders to expose waste, fraud and inefficiency in state government, and push reforms that eventually give us a government that puts the public first, not the public officials.
Develop a “Good Government Index” that measures government performance on issues the BGA cares about: Fairness, accountability, integrity, transparency, honesty and efficiency. We’ll be partnering with academics and forensic accountants on a strategy for assessing our largest taxing bodies — city, county and suburban — so we can regularly give taxpayers a reliable, data-based analysis of how well the governments they pay for are performing.
Start recognizing the many examples of “best practices” around us — places where dedicated public officials are giving taxpayers their money’s worth. One of the most frequent criticisms of the BGA — and it’s a fair one — is that we focus too much on the negative, while ignoring the positive contributions of honest, hard-working government employees. I get it, and I’m committed to changing that in 2013. So we’ll be adding a “Best Practices” page to our web site to highlight examples of good government, and perhaps we’ll sponsor a Good Government Awards event.
2012 was a productive year for the BGA. We conducted more investigations, hosted more Idea Forums, won more transparency lawsuits, trained more Citizen Watchdogs and prompted more reforms than ever before.
Our work contributed to: Elimination of the General Assembly’s scandalized legislative scholarship program, the Chicago School Board’s unaffordable sick day payouts and the City Colleges’ “golden parachute” retirement packages; renegotiation of the city school system’s “sour” milk contract with a clout-heavy vender; cancellation of unaffordable pension sweeteners in Lansing and Calumet City; and good-government initiatives in Lyons Township and Maywood.
Collectively, those reforms will save tens of millions of tax dollars, and we’re grateful to our media partners, including the Sun-Times, for doing the important work with us.
My final resolution — and it may be the most important one — is to recruit more watchdogs from the city, suburbs and Downstate: Regular, hard-working taxpayers who support our efforts and believe in the fight for better government. We need them to be our eyes and ears, our tipsters and whistleblowers, to spark the investigations that lead to the reforms.
So Happy New Year and let’s watch ’em even more closely in ’13!
Andy Shaw is president & CEO of the Better Government Association. He can be reached at email@example.com or 312-386-9097.