One day after Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office said it was reviewing whether to extend the $15,000-a-month contract of “superstar” finance expert Donna Arduin, it reversed course.
Arduin, a so-called budget guru, leaves Illinois with no budget in place.
The governor’s office said Friday it was not extending her contract, once set at $30,000 a month, a decision announced the same week that Rauner’s hand-picked comptroller said she couldn’t comply with a court order to pay disability payments because of a “severe cash shortage.”
Just Thursday, the governor’s office dismissed a published report that Arduin was leaving, say the administration was reviewing whether to extend her contract, which stirred a backlash on social media and elsewhere.
A Rauner spokesman even offered a glowing two-paragraph statement Thursday crediting Arduin with bringing “a lifetime of invaluable budgeting experience to Illinois to help grow the economy and make us the most competitive state in the country.”
Arduin’s high-priced contract faced criticism from the start.
She was paid $30,000 a month at a time when the state was drowning in red ink. When Arduin’s contract was to expire at the end of May, the administration extended it to Friday. Facing criticism over the high salary, the office cut her salary to $15,000 a month.
She earned roughly $165,000 in eight months.
Arduin, a budget consultant, is among Rauner’s “superstar” recruits, whom the governor said would right the state’s financial ship.
Shebills herself as “one of the nation’s most successful veterans of state budget management and tax reform,” and her resume reads like a Who’s Who of GOP politics. She has worked for former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former New York Gov. George Pataki and former Michigan Gov. John Engler.
When Arduin served as Schwarzenegger’s finance director, theactor-turned-politician called her “my genius.”
She co-founded her consulting firm with Arthur Laffer, who was a top economic adviser to President Ronald Reagan and is known as “the Father of Supply-Side economics.”
While Rauner defended her salary as necessary to bring in good people, he signed an executive order freezing spending and had initially criticized state employee salaries as being too high.
“Because she’s the best in America,” Rauner told an Associated Press reporter earlier this year when asked how he can justify the expense.
“She’s a brilliant lady who’s done financial turnarounds at a number of states,” Rauner said at the time. “She’s the smartest state government budget person in America that I was able to find, and she’s well worth it, because she’s going to save us billions.”
Ultimately, however, the budget expert Rauner hired with the promise of helpingbring fiscal sanity to a state drowning in red ink departs a situation arguably more divided today that when Rauner was first sworn into office in January.
With no budget in place since July 1, Illinois is paying bills on a schedule set by a series of court orders. That’s led to more money going out the door at a faster rate. One analysis by Senate Democrats showed Illinois was on pace to spend some $5 billion into the red.
Aside from no budget agreement on the horizon, Illinois is defending itself against a federal contempt of court finding for failure to pay disability payments on time. And the comptroller’s office has complained it is constantly working to triage which court-ordered bills to pay first even as it faces a bill backlog from the previous fiscal year.
Rauner’s office has lauded Arduin’s work, including that she helped train new staff “so they understand the mindset of successful budget analysis.”
State Rep. Fred Crespo, D-Hoffman Estates, said that wasn’t enough.
“This is the first state that’s giving her credit for her training on appropriations and budget issues. If they brought her in for that then we got robbed. If they brought her in at $30,000 a month for training, then we got robbed,” said Crespo, who chairs the House appropriations committee on general services.
“In my opinion, it’s almost September. We don’t have a budget, first. Second, some of the things that came out of the administration that were heavily influenced by her, we don’t consider reasonable.”
Arduin did not respond to requests for comment.
On Friday, Rauner’s office said that the decision not to renew Arduin’s contract wasn’t a change of heart.
It also released a statement from budget director Tim Nuding who applauded Arduin for helping “engineer the elimination of an inherited $1.5 billion budget deficit without a tax increase and produced an on-time budget proposal for the governor to present barely more than one month after taking office.
“She has been an invaluable adviser to me, and I look forward to her continued advice as we work to reach a pro-growth economic and fiscal agreement for the state.”