Former governor sees a light in dark situation

By Stephen Spector

Forced to confront a possible $9 billion budget deficit, low morale among civil servants and two former governors drenched in political sewage, Illinois sits at the bottom of the barrel in recent achievements.

Yet former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar believes a window of opportunity just might creak open.

“Illinois has been through an extremely difficult period publicly in the last few months, but it was the best thing that could of happened to us,” Edgar said during his discussion at the Institute of Government and Public Affairs on Wednesday.

In an hour-long event, the former governor alluded to the state’s soaring deficit, government infrastructure and the plight of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s poor decisions.

“The problems facing the state are so serious,” Edgar said.

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“I can’t fathom a $9 billion deficit.”

State Comptroller Dan Hynes reported in February 2008 that Illinois continued to “retain its status of having the worst deficit in the nation for the fourth year in a row.”

When Edgar took office in 1990, he said the budget deficit was around $1 billion.

“It’s great to do wonderful things for people, but we don’t have the money there,” Edgar said.

“You’re going to have to eliminate existing programs just to try and stay afloat.”

Besides the federal stimulus package backed by President Barack Obama, the former governor said Illinois must find other solutions to solve its economic predicament.

Edgar said state politicians should solicit the advice of state workers to reconcile the shortfall.

“Ask the state workers what do they think,” Edgar said. “How can we do what we’re supposed to do with less money? They know more than anyone else how those things operate. They know what you have to do and what you could put off doing.”

Blagojevich was largely criticized for commending high taxes on Illinois businesses. Edgar said continuing to travel that path will yield unfavorable outcomes.

“Don’t overregulate or overtax businesses,” Edgar said.

“We already have a climate not favorable to many businesses. We don’t make that even worse.”

Although state expenditures concentrate heavily on education, Edgar said there would be “no sacred cows.” State appropriations from general revenue funds are $743.3 million for the university system in 2009. Although the chance of additional funds from the state is slim, Edgar said Gov. Pat Quinn’s relationship with the University should be more intimate than Blagojevich’s.

“I don’t think he (Blagojevich) was anti-Illinois,” Edgar said.

“I just don’t think he cared about education. There are ceremonial responsibilities that are important. People want their governor to be places besides living in the mansion.”

The line of cooperation in Springfield during the Blagojevich era was often fragmented between the governor, then-Senate President Emil Jones and Speaker of the House Michael Madigan.

The three political juggernauts crafted an impediment for policy construction.

“Madigan didn’t trust Blagojevich who didn’t trust Jones,” Edgar said.

“We have right now in Springfield a window of opportunity. We have a new governor and new senate president which I can’t stress how important that is in this equation. There is a spirit where everyone wants to work together.”