Senate Undercuts Governor’s “Overreach”

Pat Quinn’s effort to streamline state “boards” and “commissions” is blocked by senators, who contend he doesn’t have authority to do away with select government panels.

 

In March, Gov. Pat Quinn issued an executive order to eliminate or consolidate 75 government panels after the Better Government Association highlighted the waste and perks that accompany many taxpayer-supported "boards" and "commissions."

 

The aim: trim the bureaucracy and save money.

But on the final day of the just-completed Illinois General Assembly session, the state Senate quietly blocked Quinn's order, claiming he didn't have the authority to eliminate 37 – or nearly half – of those committees.

Quinn's press secretary said the governor was "surprised" by the action, which she called "disappointing."

A spokesman for state Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) relayed his boss is committed to streamlining the panels, but it needs to get done through legislation. In other words, it's the Legislature's call, not the governor's.

"We considered what was done [an] executive over-reach," said Cullerton's spokesman, Ron Holmes. "We asked the governor's office to file a bill to get this done. . . . It was more of a process thing. We just felt this was kind of an over-reach."

But Holmes added that the Senate doesn't agree with all of Quinn's eliminations, so the legislation may not include the entire list advanced by the governor.

That's because some of the commissions still have work to complete, Holmes said.

Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson responded via email: "It's disappointing that anyone would oppose such a basic efficiency measure."

Overall, there are nearly 400 boards and commissions in state government. They exist, in theory, to drill into specific issues, industries and problems, and to help educate public-sector decision-makers. In reality, many of the groups do little or nothing, or sit dormant, living only on paper.

Some of the panels are created by the governor, some by legislators. Some have sunset provisions, some are created with no end in sight. Some are staffed by volunteers, others by appointees who qualify for salaries and pensions.

State of Illinois Appointments

View all Boards and Commissions for the State of Illinois

An Illinois Auditor General report found that in the 2009 fiscal year 38 boards and commissions paid $8.3 million in salaries and stipends, while more than half of all boards and commissions had at least one vacancy.

A 2011 BGA investigation found politically connected individuals named to the Human Rights Commission – a post that comes with a roughly $50,000-a-year salary and generous benefits, for an average of 13 hours a month.

The Senate's take: panels created under the law can only be undone by lawmakers, not the governor.

Among the 38 panels that Quinn's order is eliminating or merging without Senate objection: the Illinois Part C Early Intervention Taskforce, the Illinois Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission, and the Assisted Living and Shared Housing Advisory Board.

Among the 37 the Senate has kept alive, at least for the time being: the Condominium Advisory Council, the Illinois Local and Organic Food and Farm Task Force and the Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Task Force.

Quinn's executive order was blocked May 31 by a resolution that was sponsored by Cullerton – and had strong support from Republicans and Democrats.

The timeframe moving forward on legislation isn't clear, officials said.

BGA intern Meaghan Archer contributed.