The list of bad decisions made by Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan is long, but one in particular is on my mind today.
In 2011, there was a push in Illinois to consolidate the offices of the Illinois state treasurer and state comptroller. The individuals who held those offices – State Treasurer Dan Rutherford and State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, both Republicans – supported the effort. Combining the offices would have saved a projected $12 million.
The Illinois Senate supported consolidation. It passed a bill that would have sent the question to voters as a referendum on the 2012 ballot. The legislation got to the House and died – like a lot of proposed measures – when Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, sent it to committee.
Now, $12 million is not a lot of money when you’re talking about the state budget. But ...
“If you can save any money, you should do it,” Rutherford said this week when he met with members of the Northwest Herald Editorial Board. “If you can restructure government to be more efficient, you should do it.”
There’s a lot of consolidation to be done in Illinois. Eliminating redundancy through efficiency makes sense. The concept, however, is foreign in Illinois. No other state in the union has more taxing districts. Look at the number of one- and two-school school districts we have. Township government? That’s a column for another day.
At the state level, a lot of offices could learn from how Rutherford has run the state treasurer’s office. From satellite offices to fleet vehicles to office phone lines, Rutherford cut them.
Those were decisions Rutherford could make on his own. The decision to combine the state treasurer and comptroller offices to save money should have been decided by Illinois voters. Instead, Madigan unilaterally made the decision for us.
Why? Madigan says because the two offices have different responsibilities – one holds the money, one pays the bills – and that the state needs a level of checks and balances between the two offices, often citing the $6.15 million State Auditor Orville Hodge embezzled in the 1950s by forging checks. The two offices came about as a result of the incident.
“I don’t buy that checks and balances is a concern,” Rutherford said.
Why? Well, for one reason, the state doesn’t have cash laying around, as transactions are done electronically, Rutherford said. The state also has an auditor general, which reviews the obligation, expenditure, receipt and use of public funds.
Rutherford said the proposal is dead for now, but he will pursue it again. The push to do something in 2011 was so Illinois voters could decide in 2012. Had the referendum passed, voters would have been voting for the singular office in 2014.
Now, 2018 is the soonest voters could elect a single officer for both offices.
If we continue down this path, it’s scary to think about what this state will look then. What’s the over-under on bad Madigan decisions between now and 2018?
• Jason Schaumburg is editor of the Northwest Herald. He’s pretty sure this isn’t THE YEAR for the Cubs. Reach him at 815-459-4122 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @Schaumy.