Illinoisans have been longing for years for an end to the "business as usual" nature of shady backroom deals orchestrated by entrenched power brokers that defines our state's politics. But, the political responses to our desire to change the paradigm have generally proven to be more steeped in word than in deed.
So, we have good cause to wonder whether candidates who espouse fundamental change really mean what they say. With that backdrop, the budgeting ideas Republican gubernatorial challenger Bruce Rauner released last week provide only small enticement. They point in some broad general directions that hold out promise for the state, yes. But they surely represent only a start toward the kind of thinking -- and acting -- that must take place if the state's economic climate, and all the social programs that depend on it, is to regain its footing. If his purpose was to leave us wanting more, the release was surely a grand success. If it was to present the picture of a candidate ready to, in his trademark phrase, "shake up Springfield," we can only reflect -- and trust he agrees -- that the challenger still has a lot more shaking to do.
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The easy target in Rauner's 10-point "Bring Back Blueprint" for reform is the almost meaningless promise not to accept a salary or pension, saving the state just marginally more over the course of four years than Rauner listed as personal losses in farm income on his income taxes last year. But there is a more legitimate and to-the-point question in his inclusion of this promise in an economic proposal. Is he suggesting that shaking up Springfield means we should have governors who have no need of a salary or pension? That, to be sure, would be groundbreaking but seems hardly serious. Likewise his proposal to limit the outside employment for lawmakers -- this from someone who will surely continue to earn millions a year from diverse and plentiful investments.
Rauner's calls for cutting wasteful spending, merging constitutional offices, reforming Medicaid and, especially, re-examining the state purchasing system are all welcome refrains. They are also familiar and hardly new to Rauner. Moreover, by his own math, Rauner's proposals for savings barely crack the $1 billion mark, much of that accumulated over the course of decades. Meanwhile, the state will lose $5 billion every year when, as it should be, the state income tax is rolled back beginning next Jan. 1.
In that context, then, the Republican challenger's first hint of how he would attack the imposing budget problems that await the next governor come across more as summary introduction than blueprint. It's early in the campaign, yes, and the candidate himself has promised more depth and detail to come. So, we'll look forward with great interest to what more he has to offer.
And more there must surely be. Illinoisans ought not have to face yet another campaign of loud promises of vague reform but instead should get to see all the math that can provide quality education, care for the poor and elderly and strong social services, without a tax increase. It's a tall order, of course, and we still look forward to seeing it.