Illinois Senate Republicans and “Priorities of Government”

Back in 2006 a small group of Republican reformers had the pleasure of meeting on three different occasions with a member of the Illinois state senate over the course of a few months. This senator, who still holds office, discussed a wide range of issues, from fiscal to social, and at times spoke frankly about his colleagues.

When he was asked why he thought his caucus continually failed to act aggressively to advance an agenda based on Republican Party platform principles he stated simply that it was his view that they were afraid of doing anything that might rock the boat, bring controversy, and risk their reelection.

Among the things discussed was a suggestion for action on the part of the senate caucus that would be seen as a straight forward common sense proposal and received favorably by the public. At the conclusion of the third meeting information was sent by the group to the senator.

A few years ago the Evergreen Freedom Foundation in Olympia, Washington outlined an issue every American understands: the need to set spending priorities. The government of the state of Washington put in place a model that could be easily adopted by the state of Illinois.

What was needed first, obviously, was for the proposal to be embraced by a group of reform minded state legislators looking to make a loud public point. If a legislative caucus can’t make the case for such a simple common sense proposition, it’s doubtful its members should even hold office.

Two years ago this month in July 2006, the following links were sent to that Republican state senator:

This is a “Policy Highlighter” from the Washington State Evergreen Freedom Foundation (EFF) about the “Priorities of Government” program.

This is another EFF issue brief on the Priorities in Government programs titled “Lessons from New Zealand.”

An EFF brief about the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s report to Congress praising the state of Washington’s “‘commitment’ to performance-based budgeting or priorities of government.”
This is the EFF’s Priorities in Government web page titled, “Questions legislators should ask about Washington’s priorities.”

This is the State of Washington’s “Office of Fiscal Management” Priorities of Government web page.

This is a U.S. GAO report that recommends that the federal government, as well, must rethink its entire approach to policy design, priorities, and management, due to its debt, deficit, and structurally unsound fiscal condition.

This is the Heartland Institute’s “Ten Principles of State Fiscal Policy.”

The state senator’s response was, as expected, friendly:

“[T]his is a lot – but it’s darn good stuff! Keep in touch!”

As we pass the two year mark since those meetings and the information exchange took place, it’s not difficult to see why the Republicans in the General Assembly are approaching yet another disastrous general election. Suggestions are regularly presented to our elected Republican legislators and regularly they are ignored.

Voters who have sent Republicans to Springfield, in most cases it seems, have elected men and women with just enough talent to win the office but not enough talent to do anything with it. If that seems like a harsh statement, please send me a note and explain why most Republican legislators can’t even publicly ask and answer the following questions:

1. How much money does the state have? (What is the existing and forecasted revenue?)

2. What does the state want to accomplish? (What are the essential services we must deliver to citizens?)

3. How will the state measure its progress in meeting those goals?

4. What is the most effective way to accomplish the state’s goals with the money available?

Anyone who holds office as a Republican and is afraid of asking and answering such basic questions should resign their office or at least switch parties.

To learn more about this budgeting process, follow the links above. A good place to start is with this one-pager, “Priorities of Government – What is it?