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Doug Finke

STATEHOUSE INSIDER: And the digging out of debt begins in Illinois

A poor bond rating, but sorta good news, too

A poor bond rating, but sorta good news, too

The state is about to issue $6 billion or so in bonds that will be used to pay down part of the enormous bill backlog, which should help stabilize state finances, at least for a while.

Moody’s analyzed the issue and assigned a rating of Baa3 with a negative outlook. You always know you’ve got problems when a ratings agency uses “B”s and small letters to rate your credit. In this case, Moody’s noted that classification is its lowest investment grade rating.

The good news is that borrowing this money will help the state show a $2.2 billion surplus this fiscal year, according to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s budget office. The administration still says the budget spends more than estimated tax collections.

However, the analysis, which is required by law, also includes stuff like the bond issue for bills and borrowing from restricted funds to prop up state spending.

You total all of that up and on paper, the state has a surplus. This year.

Next year, that borrowing to pay bills won’t be counted as income again. Hence, the budget office is projecting a deficit of nearly $1.6 billion. Unless, that is, something unforeseen happens to improve things.

Not that it’s really needed, but it’s further evidence of what nearly everyone has been saying – it’s going to take the state years to dig itself out of the mess it’s gotten into.

Pricey campaign

Some observers have been predicting that Illinois will smash records for most expensive gubernatorial campaign in the country.

It seems inevitable with billionaires Rauner and J.B. Pritzker fighting it out and a host of other Democrats also vying for the spot and raising money.

It was enough to force the hand of Chicago alderman Ameya Pawar, who ended his campaign for governor by frankly admitting he couldn’t keep up in the money sweepstakes.

Money alone doesn’t win an election, but it obviously plays a major role, especially for a relative unknown running for a statewide office. Candidates end campaigns, but how often do they acknowledge that a lack of money is the reason?

Aid to Republicans

And speaking of money, Rauner donated $4.5 million to the Illinois Republican Party to help finance its “2018 Madigan Retirement Plan.”

The plan is to target Democratic legislative candidates who won’t renounce House Speaker Michael Madigan with the idea voters will reject them because of their ties to the hugely unpopular speaker.

Using Madigan as a foil hasn’t worked all that well before, but the GOP has done an effective job the past couple of years demonizing him even more, so who knows this time.

New job for flack

Rauner’s office announced last week that it has hired Statehouse veteran Patty Schuh as deputy chief of staff for communications. She began the job Monday.

By title, Schuh replaces Diana Rickert, one of the communications staffers ousted shortly after the operation issued a statement that Rauner could not comment on whether a cartoon was racist because he is a white male.

Hiring Schuh is a departure for the administration. She’s been with the Senate Republicans since 1985 and has been the top communications person since 1995.

In other words, unlike some other folks Rauner has brought on board, Schuh has dealt with state government and specifically, the Legislature, for a long time. That sort of experience can’t hurt this administration.

Given her longevity, Schuh has been top spokesman for a number of Senate Republican leaders. They include former Senate President James “Pate” Philip, and leaders Frank Watson, Christine Radogno and Bill Brady.

That covers a wide range of personalities.

While Schuh has a lot of seniority among Statehouse legislative flacks, she isn’t the most senior top mouthpiece.

That distinction belongs to Steve Brown, who, of course, speaks for Madigan, the longest-serving speaker in the country. Brown came on board in 1984.

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