By Kate Campaigne Piercy
$6,500 for a tub of live bass? $78,066 for quail promotion? $353,165 for car racing? Does this sound like a budget for a state in dire fiscal straits?
Hot off the press, the 2010 Illinois Piglet Book by the Illinois Policy Institute and Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) reveals the details of brow-raising spending by the state of Illinois, ranging from education, health and human services, natural resources, agriculture, the arts council and economic development.
The book lists $350 million of spending that could have otherwise meant critical savings for the taxpayers of Illinois. After looking through the 2010 Illinois Piglet Book, many people would likely challenge the claim the state has cut as much fat from its budget as possible and certainly raises questions about the mentality—found particularly in Springfield—that Illinois has no other option than raising taxes to solve its budget problems.
As exposed in the Piglet Book, Illinois state government does have more options. Places to cut spending do exist. According to Illinois Policy Institute CEO John Tillman, “Springfield has a spending problem, not a revenue problem—and these numbers just scratch the surface. It is clear the appetite for spending must be curtailed if we are going to solve our budget crisis."
CAGW Vice President of Policy David Williams agrees, saying, “The 2010 Illinois Piglet Book shows that Illinois legislators and bureaucrats need to be better stewards of the citizens’ tax dollars.”
Piglet authors conclude cutting unnecessary programs provides the first and easiest step to jump-starting the Illinois economy. The state needs to reform its spending habits or the budget issues will never go away. “In this difficult economic climate, Illinoisans have tightened their belts, yet our lawmakers continue to spend our tax dollars like there is no tomorrow,” remarks Nicole Kurokawa, author of 2010 Illinois Piglet Book. “Passing on such monumental debt to future generations is selfish and fiscally irresponsible, and must end.”
Ultimately, the state’s habits will never change unless the public takes a stronger, more active role. Transparency can only offer a tool for rooting out wasteful spending and inefficiencies. If citizens do not take advantage and use this tool, government will continue down whatever path it chooses and without accountability.
Tools for keeping state government accountable keep popping up. The state created a website last summer, http://www.accountability.illinois.gov/, after Rep. Mike Tryon sponsored transparency legislation calling for an Illinois Accountability Portal. This site was a good start to bringing more transparency to the spending process at the state level.
The Illinois Policy Institute launched www.IllinoisOpenGov.org in December 2009, offering even more details about state spending in Illinois, listing pension, expenditure, and salary information. On IllinoisOpenGov.org, someone can find, for example, the Department of Commerce spent $28,358.33 on “subscriptions” and the Governor’s office shelled out $20,692.24 on “subscriptions.” Or, see that the Department of Commerce spent $3,770 for golf carts, $2,821 on hot sauce, and $280 on soy crayons – all with Illinois citizens’ tax dollars. You can even download entire data sets in Excel or CSV file formats, comment on specific spending items, or check out its blog updated daily with new posts about the various spending decisions Illinois has made.
Calls for transparency flood the airways, politicians’ talking points, and various research and non-profits throughout the country. We need more transparency from Illinois at all levels of government – that’s clear – and little by little, we’re starting to see some good transparency measures.
Yet, with all these transparency tools (including the 2010 Illinois Piglet Book, IllinoisOpenGov.org, and the state’s own portal), what use is transparency without citizen action? Authors of the Piglet admit its information will have no effect unless concerned citizens keep on the pressure and remain steadfast in the call to reform Illinois’s culture of corruption and usher in a new era of accountability, transparency and efficiency.
Want to get involved? Get in touch with the Illinois Policy Institute and ask about our volunteer Liberty Leaders Program. True government transparency, after all, begins with local action.