Shaw: State finds more ways to waste your money
Run a business? Perform a public service? Have a civic interest? Enjoy a hobby?
Then chances are the state of Illinois has a board, a commission or panel that’s watching over you.
And that’s a problem.
Illinois is home to more than 300 tax-supported boards and commissions, many of them costly and of dubious value — starting with the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Advisory Board and rolling through the alphabet to end with the Youth Development Council.
Taxpayers are covering the salaries and benefits of board and commission members who “oversee” a wide range of functions that probably don’t need another layer of oversight, including elections, utilities, liquor control and property tax appeals.
The system is a poster child for government excess — watchers watching watchers — that should have been streamlined many years ago.
When Gov. Pat Quinn took office in 2009, replacing impeached and now-imprisoned Rod Blagojevich, he pledged to dump the most unnecessary state boards and commissions — that’s a lot of them — and make the rest more efficient.
But four years later, the situation, incredibly, is actually worse, not better.
In June 2010, there were 333 state panels, according to a report by the state auditor general.
Today, there are 346, based on a recent count by the Better Government Association.
Nearly 40 of those boards pay their members a total of more than $8 million a year in salaries and benefits. The rest hand out nearly $1 million a year in per-diem fees and expense reimbursements.
Salaries range from $117,043 for members of the full-time pollution control board, which holds hearings and reviews environmental cases (that’s arguably necessary) to $15,000 for the part-time Employment Security Board of Review, which backstops decisions on unemployment insurance claims. Really?
One of the best gigs is the part-time human rights commission, whose 12 members are paid $46,960 a year plus health and pension benefits for working an average of 13 hours a month, according to a 2011 BGA investigation. That’s almost as much as the average salary of a full-time state employee.
Some boards and commissions are created by the Illinois General Assembly, but most are under the governor’s purview.
Quinn’s promise to cut and economize also included a pledge to depoliticize panels that, in many cases, serve as landing pads for connected insiders and cronies who leave full-time sinecures but want to remain on the public payroll in some fashion.
Case in point: The aforementioned human rights commission, which includes five politically influential Democrats named to it by, you guessed it, fellow Democrat and self-proclaimed reformer Pat Quinn.
In fairness, Quinn’s been dealing with bigger financial issues, including a massive public pension debacle, a severe budget crisis and a mountain of unpaid bills.
But a governor with an army of minions should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.
A spokeswoman for Quinn tells the BGA that he remains committed to his original reform agenda in reducing the number of boards and commissions and will lay out a game plan in his upcoming budget address.
It’s about time, and we’re looking forward to hearing his new and improved strategy.
But we sure hope that Quinn doesn’t call for the creation of a new board or commission to review the need for the current ones.
That would be adding insult to injury.
Andy Shaw is president and chief executive of the Better Government Association.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 312-386-9097.