Reporters surrounded Gov. Bruce Rauner in his office in Springfield earlier this month as he proclaimed how he would manage the state.
Every dollar. Every dollar mattered, he emphasized repeatedly. No matter how small the cut, it could be worth it to maintain his administration’s motto: Compassionate and Competitive.
OK, not too many people might argue with that thinking.
Rauner is accepting only $1 as salary as governor, and his first act after he was sworn in was to freeze all “non-essential” state spending.
This caused a flurry of questions by state agencies on what was and wasn’t essential. Were construction and transportation projects at a standstill?
The following week, we learned that Rauner created a new position that hasn’t existed since Gov. George Ryan’s days.
His wife, Illinois first lady Diana Rauner, hired a chief of staff with the accompanying salary of $100,000 a year.
Ok. Arguing began.
We haven’t even had an Illinois first lady in Illinois in six years, now taxpayers have to pay six figures for a top staff person?
How was this “essential” spending?
Was Diana Rauner in violation of her own husband’s executive order?
Rauner spokesman Lance Trover laid out the duties for the new hire, saying the chief of staff “oversees the staff at the executive residence and will serve as the first lady’s liaison to the governor’s office, the Legislature, and the City of Springfield. Many current first ladies across the country have chiefs of staff. Former Illinois First Lady Brenda Edgar had a chief of staff. Mrs. Rauner intends to work alongside the governor to improve the state of Illinois and (the new chief of staff) will play a key role in that effort.”
Diana Rauner, who heads the Ounce of Prevention Fund — an educational advocacy group — has said she would play a greater role in programs for children in the state. That could turn out to bring laudable achievements from a bright woman who has achieved independent successes all her life.
And most Illinois voters would probably not mind giving her a chance to see if she can do that.
There is some understanding by the public that competitive salaries are necessary to draw good people to government. That’s what Rauner himself argued later in the week when he defended that hire.
But it doesn’t quite square with remarks the governor made on Thursday.
At the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, Rauner used strong rhetoric to warn salary cuts could be on the table for state workers, arguing their salaries in Illinois were too generous.
The average? $64,000 in 2012. Rauner is attempting to build consensus for a budget that he has repeatedly emphasized will mean everyone must sacrifice.
That’s the talk at least.
The actions: Rauner is bringing in a new “turnaround team.” He announced that among his hires was a former governor of Hawaii who would serve as Illinois’ future chief operating officer. He said they did not yet know the salary for those positions.
Rauner is saying that he will pay what’s necessary to attract the best candidates to turn things around.
So then we should expect six-figure salaries to keep rolling in? Or will they too be asked to share in the sacrifice?
Because as Rauner himself said: every dollar matters.