Dear Governor-elect Rauner,
Please join us at a Better Government Association luncheon in Springfield on Tuesday, Nov. 18, for a conversation about fiscal and ethical reform in Illinois.
I’ll give you the details in a minute, but first, congratulations on your victory, after a bruising campaign that consumed a lot of energy, airtime and money, much of it your own.
It was the most expensive governor’s race in Illinois history —nearly $100 million — but it turned on a simple fact: A majority of voters want a new approach to running the state, and you promised one.
Now the campaign is over, and we don’t need any more sales pitches. We need solutions.
Illinois, as you know all too well, is facing daunting fiscal and ethical challenges, and taxpayers want to know how their new governor intends to work with legislative leaders on a long-term rescue plan before it gets worse.
The most pressing initial question is the future of the state income tax, which went up by a whopping 67 per cent in 2011. The increase was supposed to be temporary, and the phase out is scheduled to begin on Jan. 1.
That’s good news for taxpayers, but not for a state budget that stands to lose several billion tax dollars.
Are you comfortable with that, and do you still want to eliminate the entire tax increase over the next four years, as you’ve indicated? If so, we need a detailed plan for dealing with the lost revenue.
Ilinois residents also deserve a broader discussion about taxes in general — what the state can realistically expect to collect each year, and how the burden should be balanced among the individuals and businesses that pay income, sales and property taxes.
In other words, what’s the fairest mix for Illinois?
Those tax and revenue questions have to be answered quickly to address a serious budget shortfall, a massive stack of unpaid bills, and pension obligations that eat up increasingly more of our limited revenue each year.
And speaking of our pension crisis — it’s still the worst in the country — you predict the courts will find the reforms approved by the Legislature last year unconstitutional.
If that happens, then what? The 401k-style plan you’d like to implement? Or a reworked version of the current defined benefits approach?
The point is, Illinois needs a viable “Plan B,” and that requires another round of intense negotiations with the public employee unions.
The backup plan should also address the loopholes and abuses that unjustly pad the pensions of clouted public officials, draining the state’s scarce resources even more, and further exacerbating the public’s waning confidence in government.
Restoring that confidence will require many other reforms, and here are a few you should consider: Strengthen the Freedom of Information Act to enhance transparency; make public officials disclose more information on their ethics statements; address the conflicts that arise when part-time lawmakers have private sector jobs that intersect with government; and create a fairer and more accessible election system to encourage competition and participation.
We’d also appreciate your commitment to enacting additional reforms aimed at reducing the wrongful convictions we exposed in a 2011 investigation. That can help local governments avoid multi-million-dollar lawsuits, and reduce the incalculable human toll on those who spend years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit.
And finally, for now at least, we’d like to see your long-term plan for reducing Illinois’ 7,000 units of local government — that’s a couple thousand more than any other state — through consolidations, mergers and reorganizations.
“Smart streamlining” is still one of our top priorities, and we welcome you to the fight.
We don’t expect you to have all the answers right away, but it’s time to begin the conversation, and a good way to do that is to attend our Springfield Advisory Board luncheon on the future of Illinois.
Former Governor Jim Edgar will be joining us for a question and answer session, and we’d like you to share your thoughts and ideas.
We’re pretty sure you’ll be in Springfield on the 18th because the fall veto session begins the following day, so drop by for an hour to begin this all-important conversation.
You invited voters in a campaign ad to throw you out in four years if you don’t follow through on your promise to “shake up Springfield and bring back Illinois.”
Well, four years is a long way off, so we’re inviting you to start shakin’ and bakin’ with us on Nov. 18.
President and CEO
Better Government Association