By: Mark Glennon*
Governor J.B. Pritzker’s annual Budget Address is Wednesday. Here are certain things we expect to hear that you should be skeptical about or reject outright:
• Asset transfers to pensions. Pritzker’s pension task force has been working primarily on the concept of transferring public assets to pensions to address the pension crisis. We may get the first specifics on Wednesday. The Tollway and the Thompson Center have been mentioned as possible assets to transfer. Asset transfers, however, solve nothing, being mere gifts to pensions, moving assets from one hand to another. They rely primarily on an accounting gimmick, which we explained in detail last year.
• Millions not billions. Pritzker knows what all politicians know — that the public doesn’t appreciate the difference between a million and a billion. He kicked off budget season last week with a press conference announcing $225 million of savings from new efficiencies. Sounds like a lot but that’s in fact just one-half of one percent of the state’s budget. Every bit of those savings are welcome and some of those claims may be valid, but remember that our problems are in the hundreds of billions.
By the way, part of those claimed savings result, Pritzker said, from “working with Comptroller Mendoza’s office to pay overdue medical bills.” What does that even mean? Maybe he is referring to the program using idle money held by the Treasurer to pay down bill backlogs thereby cutting late fees.
If so, those savings resulted directly from Wirepoints’ work. It was because we pounded the table about proper use of Treasurer money that the program was proposed. You’re welcome, Governor.
• The “Fair Tax” cornucopia. Pritzker undoubtedly will claim he needs the progressive income tax increase to truly address our budget issues. He will say or imply, again, that property tax relief, pension funding, core human services, education and more depend on it. But his own estimates claim just $3.5 billion of new revenue which, as we’ve documented often, won’t come remotely close to covering promises made, especially on property tax relief.
• Exaggerated savings from pension buyouts and consolidation. Pritzker’s office still hasn’t produced the study he said he has supporting the savings from buyouts that he claimed, despite our December FOIA request. Regarding pension consolidation, despite Pritzker’s claim that the recent reform was “monumental,” less than five percent of state pensions were covered by that action.
• “It’s Rauner’s fault.” That’s a persistent message from Pritzker but it’s really just a device to avoid addressing structural fiscal problems that long preceded Bruce Rauner’s administration.
• Nothing. On real pension reform, that is. Pritzker has categorically ruled out real pension reform by opposing the state constitutional amendment we need for it. Former Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger summarized so much yesterday with this simple post on Twitter: “No amount of taxes can solve IL’s financial problems without pension reform.”
• The budget is balanced. Pritzker and legislators from both parties undoubtedly will say that again, but we will never stop reminding our readers that annual government budgets are nearly meaningless. Claims of “balance” hide true, annual losses that have averaged $1.1 million per hour since 2001. We explained why in plain English again last week.
• We carnival barkers. In his State of the State speech last month, Pritzker said this, clearly meaning to include us at Wirepoints. Maybe we’ll hear it again:
Those who would shout doom and gloom might be loud – using social media bots and paid hacks to advance their false notions – but they are not many. You see, we’re wresting the public conversation in Illinois back from people concerned with one thing and one thing only — predicting total disaster, spending hundreds of millions of dollars promoting it, and then doing everything in their power to make it happen. I’m here to tell the carnival barkers, the doomsayers, the paid professional critics – the State of our State is growing stronger each day.
We’ll let you judge that one for yourselves.
*Mark Glennon is founder of Wirepoints.