by Jeff Fleischer(Medill News Service, November 20, 2002)
With weeks to go until the state’s huge financial deficit becomes his primary responsibility, Gov.-elect Rod Blagojevich unveiled his 28-member budget advisory board Wednesday, saying the group “ushers in an era of sensible, long-term planning.”
“This is a team of leaders with extensive and valuable experience in the private sector, in the public sector, academia and issue advocacy,” Blagojevich said. “Their energy and their ideas will help us … deal with the state’s current budget crisis in a way that moves the state of Illinois toward a more stable fiscal position.”
The three co-chairs are: John Filan, a former member of the Chicago Board of Education and special budget consultant to the Illinois House and Senate; Ralph Muller, past president and CEO of the University of Chicago Hospitals, and Sharon Gilliam, a past city budget director and chief of staff to former Chicago Mayor Eugene Sawyer.
“We are committed to not only identifying the current size of the budget problem, but looking for a series of options that we can give to Gov. Blagojevich,” Gilliam said. “We look forward to the day that the governor can step forward and say, if not ‘the problem is solved,’ at least ‘I have a very good handle on the problem and these are the things we need to do as a state going forward.'”
Blagojevich said the advisory board will spend his transition period examining the state’s current fiscal situation and identifying the “most urgent” budget challenges.
“[The advisory board is] going to be involved in helping us put together our budget team that will be part of the government, including our budget director,” Blagojevich said. “It is charged with the responsibility to develop our plan for the budget that we’re going to present to the General Assembly.”
The governor-elect reiterated his pledge not to raise taxes of any kind, including proposed service taxes or a “tax swap” that would lower property taxes but raise the income tax. Instead, Blagojevich stressed his team should look at “creative” ways to raise revenue and ways to cut spending while minimizing the impact on services.
“There is no question that we have hard work, struggle and sacrifice in front of us,” he said. “But if we make the right decisions, the crisis gives us the opportunity to change things — to reprioritize spending, to streamline state government, to eliminate waste and inefficiency, to change the way business is done in Springfield.”
The 28-member board includes the three co-chairs, eight ex-officio members and 17 regular board members. Those 17 include: Edward Bedore, former chief financial officer for Chicago and city budget director; Garrett Deakin, executive assistant for government relations at Southern Illinois University; and Paula Wolff, director of policy and planning for former Gov. Jim Thompson and transition team leader for former Gov. Jim Edgar.
Blagojevich said he would not comment on the specific size of the state budget deficit until his team had more time to examine the issue. The state made major spending cuts under Gov. George Ryan last year, and estimates for the next fiscal year project deficits of more than $2 billion.
“I don’t think we should kid ourselves,” Lt. Gov.-elect Pat Quinn said. “What we’re inheriting is a very bad situation, but we’re not complaining. We’re going to roll up our sleeves. We’re going to be frugal and thrifty and work together to help the people of Illinois get a state budget that they deserve — one where the revenues are sufficient to invest in health care, in education, in human services, in public safety.”
Blagojevich said he looks forward to working with House Speaker Michael Madigan and incoming Senate President Emil Jones. He flatly denied a published report that he might consider ousting Madigan as chairman of the state Democratic Party and replacing him with a person of his own choosing.
“If we’re going to get into political fights, let them be over the budget, let them be over line items, let them be over the issue of taxes,” Blagojevich said. “I’m saving my energy to pick those fights.”
The governor-elect said the budget team will look at all state revenues, expenditures and debt management before he takes office, and he will keep the public updated on the group’s progress.
“What’s nice about being governor-elect is that we have six weeks or better before I’m actually the governor and then four years,” Blagojevich said. “We have a lot of opportunities to answer a lot of these questions in the weeks ahead.”