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Doug Finke

Bruce's budget is, um, a 'plan'

Gov. Quinn's No. 2, Vallas, calls it a 'joke'

Gov. Quinn's No. 2, Vallas, calls it a 'joke'

Well, people demanded budget information from Bruce Rauner, and last week, he finally came out with something that dealt with budget issues.

Just what it was depends on your perspective.

Rauner, of course, called it a “plan” and titled his presentation a “Bring Back Blueprint.”

Gov. Pat Quinn's running mate, Paul Vallas, called it a “joke,” and seemed to have a number of pundits who agreed with his assessment.

Let's see, the Rauner plan has that hardy perennial of getting rid of the state airplanes. Voters love this idea, even if it doesn't save hardly any money in the grand scheme of things.

Rauner wants to save $12 million by combining the comptroller's and treasurer's offices, like that's never been suggested before. It takes only a change to the Illinois Constitution, which no one's been able to engineer. Those savings just might be iffy.

Rauner would prohibit outside employment for the four legislative leaders, three of whom are lawyers. Rauner, though, is willing to share the pain and will accept neither a salary nor a pension as governor. Of course, he should be able to squeeze by on that $53 million he reported earning in 2012.

Rauner said the state can save millions by shoving lawmakers into a 401(k)-style retirement system rather than their current pension system. That's the same idea he had in mind for all public workers: Freeze their current pensions and put them into a 401(k).

Do you not think that, if that came to pass, some lawmaker somewhere from a safe legislative district would immediately be in court asking that it be declared unconstitutional?

Most of his savings comes from a $500 million cut in expenses at the Department of Central Management Services, the state's purchasing and personnel agency. How that would be achieved is not spelled out in the proposal.

Apparently, for answers to this and other questions, we'll have to wait for a future episode of "raise education spending and balance the budget while cutting taxes.”

More Medicaid cuts? Good luck

One of Rauner's areas of savings is Medicaid. Of course it is. Medicaid is the holy grail of savings for Republicans. Listen to some of them, and there's no real need to look at much of anything else. Cutting Medicaid waste is the source of happy financial times ahead for the state.

Don't read this as a defense of the state spending $12 million to pay for coverage of people who are dead. That's a major malfunction that obviously can't be allowed to repeat.

It's just that, from examples like those, people make grand estimates of how much money the state can save from Medicaid without a lot of hard facts. Rauner, at least, is keeping his savings estimate a comparatively modest $250 million – modest compared to some that have been floated.

Rauner's talked before about cutting Medicaid waste. A day earlier, Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, had some pointed comments about Rauner and other Republicans constantly talking Medicaid cuts.

“That [Medicaid] to me is a code word,” Cullerton said. “Those are poor people. It might even send a signal that they are minorities. The majority of Medicaid recipients are white.”

Cullerton said the state already cut Medicaid, and, as for finding more, “Good luck, fellas. Tell us where we left $3 billion on the table.”

Cheap Illinois

Cullerton also said the state doesn't get enough credit for positives in its financial picture, such as not taxing retirement income.

“It's cheaper to retire in Illinois than Florida if you live on retirement income,” Cullerton said. “It's not warmer, but it's cheaper. Let's start bragging about it.”

Quotable quote

“The Obama library has to be in Illinois. I can't imagine it being anywhere else. Hawaii can have a little presidential center.”

– Cullerton, on where an Obama presidential library should be located.