How would you describe the state of our state? Paralyzed? Dysfunctional? Dystopian? Toxic? All of the above?
Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner will give us his definition on Wednesday, when he delivers the annual “State of the State” address, and Illinois finishes its seventh month without a budget.
Rauner’s been previewing the speech by rolling out new ideas he’ll discuss further on Wednesday, including proposals to take over Chicago’s ailing public schools and start fixing the nation’s worst pension crisis.
We also expect him to restate his priorities — education and criminal justice reform, government efficiency and productivity, and his controversial “turnaround agenda” — and reiterate his plan for ending a budget impasse with Democratic lawmakers that’s inflicting more pain every day on Illinois residents, young and old, who aren’t getting the state funding they rely on for higher education, social services and other basic programs.
While those “big ticket” items have been attracting most of the attention, the Better Government Association’s Policy Unit has been quietly fine-tuning our legislative agenda, which is also important if we’re ever going to get the good government we’re entitled to in exchange for our hard-earned tax dollars.
The governor may address some of our concerns on Wednesday, but even if he doesn’t we’ll be working hard in the coming months to win his support and the backing of state lawmakers.
Top BGA priorities for this session include:
+ Preserving police misconduct records — the paper trail of civilian complaints and investigations that are in danger of being destroyed because of a misguided provision in the Chicago police union contract.
We’re asking lawmakers to protect those documents so police officials, the Justice Department, the media and watchdogs can discern patterns of police behavior that warrant greater scrutiny.
It’s a painfully obvious necessity in the wake of the Laquan McDonald tragedy.
+ Requiring private police departments on school campuses to share the same law enforcement information their public counterparts release.
+ Mandating full disclosure on the currently opaque statements of economic interest that public officials file annually, so we can flag potential conflicts of interest that aren’t readily apparent now.
+ Protecting the state’s Freedom of Information Act from amendments that could weaken the public’s best tool for keeping an eye on public officials.
+ Implementing more “smart streamlining” measures that would enable local voters to consolidate or eliminate wasteful, unnecessary and duplicative government offices.
+ Reforming the state’s pension code to eliminate costly sweeteners, loopholes and other abuses that reward politically connected insiders while gouging taxpayers.
+ Encouraging more civic engagement, and a healthier democracy, by making it easier for Illinois residents to register, vote and run for office.
Those measures will improve our ability to carry out our watchdog mission — shining a light on government and holding public officials accountable.
But we’ll only accomplish our good government objectives if regular citizens get involved and raise their voices so our elected officials know we’re serious.
That’s been missing in the current state budget stalemate— enough public pressure to force the governor and legislative leaders to negotiate in good faith.
So while we’re waiting for Rauner’s speech on Wednesday, and finalizing our Springfield agenda, let’s remember we’re only going to get a budget deal, taxpayer-friendly reforms and an Illinois we can be proud of if we keep reminding our elected leaders, loudly and frequently, that this is our state, and they work for us, not themselves.
Andy Shaw is president and CEO of the Better Government Association.
Follow Andy Shaw on Twitter: @andyshawbga