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Miller: Rauner’s math on proposed budget cuts not adding up

Published: Monday, June 16, 2014 9:07 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, June 16, 2014 9:11 p.m. CDT

“Today, I laid out more than $1 billion in structural reforms,” Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner boasted to his supporters via a blast e-mail last week.

Baloney.

Rauner’s press conference to announce a billion dollars in alleged budget savings was an almost total farce.

Fully half of what Rauner said he could save – $500 million at the Department of Central Management Services – came with absolutely no details. Rauner did provide some annual totals for emergency and sole-source contracts, but he’d have to get rid of almost of all those, with all those government services they involve, to hit his goal. It’s a total sleight of hand with no actual basis in reality, but it gets him halfway to his magic billion dollars, so it was included.

Another $250 million would come from implementing “Medicaid verification reform,” but those reforms are ongoing, although not to Rauner’s liking. The private company hired to root out ineligible Medicaid recipients started with the lowest of low hanging fruit. And even then, lots of people were restored to the Medicaid rolls after filling out the proper forms. So projecting a $250 million savings based on the initial work by that private contractor, before its actions were reversed, is a complete fantasy.

In other words, three quarters of Rauner’s billion dollars is either magic money or already in the pipeline.

Part of what Rauner did last week was what every candidate does. He highlighted some press clippings about Quinn administration screwups, which he claims totaled $140 million.

But almost half that amount – $60 million – was overtime costs for prison workers. Rauner wants to hire more guards, but that would actually add state costs for things like training, more full-time salaries and benefits. Should there be more prison guards? Sure. But don’t pretend that it’ll save money.

I’ll even be charitable and give Rauner all of his savings on questionable capital projects. But these aren’t annual cash savings. The state takes out long-term loans for construction projects, and Rauner pointed to some projects totaling about $11.5 million. Yes, many of those projects are goofy. No argument there. Spending an eye-popping $10 million to rehab a decrepit private theater in Chicago is a justifiable target for critics. But cutting out that project won’t save $10 million a year. It’ll save maybe a tenth of that.

“We need to stop the false choice of dangerous cuts to government services or higher taxes,” Rauner claimed last week.

What we need, Bruce, is a serious conversation.

• Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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