Bruce Rauner waved goodbye to cronyism—or did he?
  • Seth Perlman/AP
  • Bruce Rauner waved goodbye to cronyism—or did he?

This huge deficit is the result of years of bad decisions, sleight-of-hand budgeting, and giveaways we couldn’t afford. It is not the result of decreasing tax rates.

Some in the General Assembly are eager to discuss new revenue. But before revenue can be discussed, reform is essential.

So said Governor Rauner Wednesday to Illinois as he laid out a budget he said the state could afford. He is right, of course, that decreasing tax rates are not to blame for the deficit: the personal income tax rate dropped from 5 percent to 3.75 percent on January 1, allowing hardly enough time for Illinois to get any more bankrupt than it already was. Even so, if higher taxes—a tool of many a balanced-budget strategy—are to be held hostage to reform, we may never see them again. Reform is a fine idea but hard to measure, there being no yardstick by which to declare, “We’ve had enough reform for now. Let’s raise some revenue.”

One reform Rauner mentioned involved rollbacks in the pension and medical programs enjoyed by state employees. This’ll involve “good faith bargaining,” Rauner allowed, and he hoped “those on the other side of the table are as committed as I am to achieving the types of meaningful reform that are necessary for Illinois’ future.”

This is cheeky of the governor, as a few days ago he announced he favors right-to-work zones in Illinois—that is, areas where state employees wouldn’t have to pay union dues if they didn’t want to, even though they were benefiting from union representation.

It’s also cheeky of the governor to argue the state is destitute the same day it was reported that he’d hired an out-of-state budget consultant for four months at $30,000 a month. This is Donna Arduin, a supply-sider for hire who has previously been of service to the states of Michigan, New York, California, and Florida. When she was hired by Sarasota County, Florida, in late 2013 to review a county development plan, the local paper harshly reviewed her performance.

Reported Sarasota’s Herald-Tribune, county commissioners “rejected Arduin’s 48-page draft—an unusually pointed case for eliminating almost all development hurdles—saying it read less like a rigorous analysis and more like an ideological essay on the perils of government regulation.” The paper said its review of Arduin’s firm’s reports in other states found they had this in common: “The reports galvanize the political right, anger the left and leave economists scratching their heads.”

Rauner’s made other interesting appointments. He named the wife of his deputy chief of staff to be assistant director of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, a $121,00-a-year job. And just in case the governor’s wife, Diana Rauner, needs a chief of staff to guide her through her unofficial duties, she has one, Sara Wojcicki Jimenez, hired for $100,000 a year.

Perhaps Rauner’s 2014 political director, Sarah Clamp—whose younger sister now has a $70,000-a-year job with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency—said some encouraging words to Rauner when he campaigned by ripping his opponent, then-governor Pat Quinn, for “cronyism.” Quinn’s cronyism contrasted sharply with the fierce meritocrat Rauner presented himself as during the campaign, though not quite as sharply with the managerial philosophy Rauner had expressed in a 2004 interview:

“There’s no distinction in my day between my work and my play. I’ll get to know a CEO on a very personal level. We’ll play golf, go out to dinner, have a cigar, go hunting, fishing. . . . We become friends, which is part of the fun of the business. . . . I find that the personal bonding that comes from fun leads to proprietary deal flow . . . ”

Like many an executive before him, in or out of government, Rauner likes to hire who he feels like hiring and pay them what he feels like paying them.