Lawmaker wants panel to help state agencies spend wisely
Published by Capitol News Illinois on Jan. 30, 2019
By Rebecca Anzel
SPRINGFIELD — A Woodstock representative wants a private-sector commission to examine the spending habits and management practices of state agencies.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have discussed increased revenue or decreased spending as a means to solve Illinois’ budget woes. But Republican Rep. Steve Reick is focusing on minimizing redundancies in what the state already allocates.
His legislation, House Joint Resolution 6 and House Bill 275, would create an 18-member commission to comb through reports from the auditor general’s office and recommend ways to reduce spending, boost performance and adapt management strategies for state agencies. The group would be funded through private donations.
“We can’t go to the taxpayers and say we want more [money] until we tell them that we have done as much as we can and as best we can with what we have,” Reick said at a news event Tuesday.
The idea for the Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform came from a conversation Reick had with Republican Rep. Dan Swanson, a 27-year Army veteran from Alpha.
One of the first things a military officer does when he or she takes over a command, Swanson said, is to look at inspection reports from previous years. Those reports are similar to what the auditor general’s office produces about state agencies. When he began reading them, he noticed agencies had repeat findings year after year.
“It’s wrong and it’s inefficient for the same reports and the same errors being found year after year after year with no accountability in those findings,” Swanson said. “That’s not acceptable in the military world, nor should it be in our government world.”
A spokesperson for Auditor General Frank Mautino said that in the previous five audit cycles, 57 percent of findings in reports on state agencies were repeated ones. Those findings are usually procedural deficiencies.
These repeated findings are important, Reick said, because they show “a lack of control over the very money that we tell [state agencies] to spend.”
That is why the commission should be comprised of people from the private sector, he added. “The last people we want to put in charge of examining these agencies are those who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.”
Commission members would be chosen by each of the four legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker. Once funds are donated by “the kind of people who have a stake in Illinois,” Reick said, they would hire staff with expertise in budgetary and managerial areas, to name a few.
One sector to pull talent from, the representative suggested, is the business colleges in the state, including Northwestern University and the University of Illinois.The two are developing new management techniques that could lead to increased efficiencies.
“Let’s get on the cutting edge of something for a change,” Reick said.
The proposed legislation instructs the commission to “conduct an in-depth review of the operations” of the state agencies under Pritzker’s purview, but it does not specify how far back the members need to investigate.
The commission’s report would be due to the General Assembly and governor’s office by Oct. 20, 2020.
If the legislation is successful, and the General Assembly and Pritzker’s office work together to enact changes to address findings in this report, it is unclear how much money Illinois taxpayers would save.
Among the proposal’s detractors is the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability Executive Director Ralph Martire. The Center is a nonpartisan think tank that “promote[s] social and economic justice for everyone,” according to its website.
Martire specifically takes issue with the commission’s organization as a social welfare nonprofit organization under the Internal Revenue Service’s code.
“There’s no reason to do this as a 501(c)(4) other than you want to manipulate the process; you don’t want an honest hearing; you want to hide who’s funding it from the public; you want to do everything that’s the opposite of transparent and accountable in your approach to pushing forward this agenda,” he said.
By establishing the commission’s financial structure in this way, the information for donors can, and most likely will, be kept private. In a news event, though, Reick said he would not be opposed to publicizing the names of those private individuals or organizations that donate money.
Martire said an alternative would be to make the commission’s structure a not-for-profit, which must legally disclose all donations over $5,000. That way, interest groups or individuals could not make large donations and request the commission adhere to their agenda.
Reick responded that at this early stage of the legislative process, opponents should be focusing on the big picture, not the details.
The representative said he does not see this initiative as anything but a bipartisan attempt to make Illinois government more efficient. Currently, only Republicans are signed on in support of both measures.
When Reick introduced this same bill in September, one Democrat supported it — Rep. Mary Flowers from Chicago. She did not respond to requests for comment about whether she plans to support this iteration.
But it does seem as though Reick has a Democratic supporter in Pritzker. Just one day after taking the oath of office, he signed his first executive order. It instructed all state agencies to, within 60 days, analyze all audit reports and legal requirements to ensure they are addressing the findings therein.
Jordan Abudayyeh, a spokeswoman for Pritzker, was noncommittal when asked if his administration would support Reick’s legislation, but said generally that the governor is interested in working with both parties to pass a balanced budget.
The spokesman for the auditor general’s office said it is always officially neutral in all legislation that is under consideration by the General Assembly.