Editorial: 'Gov. No' and his challenge to the suburbs

  • Gov. Bruce Rauner says painful expense reductions are unavoidable.

    Gov. Bruce Rauner says painful expense reductions are unavoidable. Associated Press Photo

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted2/20/2015 1:00 AM

The response of most suburban mayors was as predictable as the response from all the others who saw Gov. Bruce Rauner coming their way with his budget knife.

"We just can't cut any more," Arlington Heights Village President Tom Hayes said.

 

Many conversations, in fact, almost immediately became less about what savings municipal officials could find or what efficiencies they could create and more about what taxes or fees they could raise.

State government, after all, is not the only government that fails to behave like a business.

You'll recall perhaps the recent housing decline. Everywhere, homeowners asked, "The value of my house went down but why didn't my tax bill?" You know why? It wasn't because of some sinister code in the assessment formula. It was because local governments didn't spend less.

We're not sure if Rauner's "Gov. No" approach to municipal funding is part of an unspoken greater vision of forcing spending reductions downhill across local governments the way CEOs force corporate expense savings across departments; or whether it's part of a long-term strategy to promote consolidation of Illinois' vast multiplicity of local governments; or whether it's simply that he's got to cut somewhere and he can't worry whether municipalities lay off police or raise property taxes.

But here's the Twitter-sized summary of our view of Rauner's budget proposal: We appreciate the stark tone and the blunt message. Yes, let's get serious about cutting. But let's also be realistic about it.

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Fifty-percent cuts may be worth discussing, but as a phased-in goal, not an overnight assault.

A phased approach allows for meaningful planning. The overnight version guarantees disruption and shortsighted decision-making.

There's a difference between being a CEO of a private business and being a CEO of a state.

In a private business, if you say we're cutting a department's funding, it's up to the department to develop efficiencies to make it work. In a state, if you say we're cutting municipal funding, the municipality has the option of raising taxes.

We're sure local governments would look for savings but since any tax or fee increase could be blamed on the state, they wouldn't tend to do so with the same urgency that a private business would.

It is unlikely Rauner will be able to enact most of his proposal, but local governments need to heed the message just the same.

Sooner or later, cuts are coming. Plan for them now.

Local leaders for the most part are good, well-meaning people. But the idea that they can't cut any more is specious. In too many cases, they haven't found more cuts because they haven't had the incentive to look.

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