Budget shenanigans are a tradition in Springfield, but they make it hard to ensure the state is spending its money wisely. Now, lawmakers have a chance to get behind a truth-in-budgeting initiative by Comptroller Susana A. Mendoza to make the state budget more transparent. They should seize the opportunity.
In a report last week, Mendoza said most of the staffers who work directly for Gov. Bruce Rauner are actually hidden in the budgets of other state agencies. That’s a bad practice. We need an accurate picture that shows precisely who is working where.
If you looked at the Illinois payroll, you’d think the state was spending $4.9 million a year to run the governor’s office. In reality, according to Mendoza, the total is more than $10 million. Of 102 workers, most of them — 58 — are toiling away under budgetary aliases.
Where else can budgetary numbers be off by more than 100 percent, and it’s supposed to be business as usual?
State Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, a co-sponsor of legislation pushed by Mendoza that would fix this, told us, “It’s not an honest representation of the real costs of government.”
Governors, both Republicans and Democrats, have engaged in this practice — which they call “offshoring” — at least since the days of former Gov. George Ryan. Now is a good time to stop. Offshoring not only obscures the true costs of running the governor’s office, it also means other agencies, such as the State Police or the Department of Human Services, have to make do with a smaller amount of money each year than the Legislature intended.
This isn’t to say the offshored employees aren’t necessary or aren’t doing a good job. But the more accurate the budget is, the easier it is to spot potential savings that would benefit the taxpayer.
State Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, for example, thinks a more transparent budget would make it clearer that Rauner doesn’t need two deputy governors on his payroll, particularly because Rauner helped shoot down the idea of eliminating the office of lieutenant governor.
McSweeney, also a co-sponsor of the legislation, says it will ensure future governors don’t hide their workers elsewhere in the state budget.
A state budget is all about setting priorities. Concealing things from the public shouldn’t be one of them.
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