EDITORIAL: State of the State

This past week, the governor delivered his annual “State of the State” address. Last year, Gov. Bruce Rauner’s focus was on an agenda to turn around Illinois. For the new year, he’s refocusing that “turnaround” agenda specifically on reforms to help businesses create jobs and to clean up government. For 2016, he’s also introduced a “transformation agenda,” which talks about ways to make Illinois government more effective and efficient.

While some of these transformation items won’t make the front page of the morning paper, they will have a significant effect on how government services are delivered and at what cost. For instance, buying things for state government takes too long and costs too much. Simple reforms to how we purchase products and services for the state will save us over $500 million per year. Other states and private companies have made these changes, as part of “procurement reform,” and succeeded in both lowering the price paid for goods and services and lowering the cost of the process of buying itself.

The governor is also seeking to reform our Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, which up to now has been a bloated, slow bureaucracy. This is one place where all of us want to see the governor use his experience and contacts in the business world, to draw companies to invest and grow in Illinois instead of other states or countries. The governor is also looking to bring our technology practices into the 21st Century, and he has created a “Department of Innovation and Technology” to do so. Without a robust technology infrastructure that works, time and money is wasted on maintaining ancient machines and systems, instead of delivering necessary services and information to the people.

A top priority of mine is looking at how we deliver services to “the least of these,” those who are disabled or otherwise disadvantaged through no fault of their own. In the human services area, we have multiple agencies and programs doing the same thing, causing unnecessary duplication and increasing cost. In some agencies and programs, too much money goes to administration and not enough to direct service for people in need. Finally, even when the intervention reaches a needy person, that intervention may not be the most successful or effective way to assist them. What was “conventional wisdom” 30 or 40 years ago may not be best today, particularly in the healthcare field. Another galling example is that we keep open large institutions for the disabled because of political pressure, instead of serving disabled folks in smaller, more intimate group homes, which are often more effective and much less expensive.

All this is happening at a time when the charities that provide the best service to the less fortunate—and do so much cheaper than the state can—are being forced out of business, because the state won’t pay its bills. At this time of great need, it’s a sin how much money intended for helping people is misspent by the state government.

A substantial number of these reforms should be easy, bipartisan issues. But there’s a lot of tension in the air in Springfield, and we’re told that very few, if any, bills will pass the General Assembly this year. I’m doing what I can to bridge that divide, both in cosponsoring and working on bills offered by my Democratic colleagues and in just meeting folks over a quiet cup of coffee to figure out where we can reach common ground. But it’s an election year—a particularly unique, contentious election year—so we’ll see.

It’s my hope that the General Assembly will come together, to reform our state and do the work of governing. If that can’t happen, then I hope that the upcoming elections focus on the serious problems facing Illinois, and how each candidate will either help or hinder the solutions to those problems. One way or the other, we need to move forward and fix our state.