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Thursday, Oct. 21, 2010 05:26 am

The cost of Bill Brady’s plan

Cutting state government ‘a dime per dollar’ would hit Springfield hard

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Sen. Bill Brady and his wife, Nancy, appeared at a Columbus Day rally in Charleston for his campaign for governor.
PHOTO BY PATRICK YEAGLE

Of the estimated 400 to 500 people who showed up to a Columbus Day rally in Charleston for state senator and Republican governor hopeful Bill Brady of Bloomington, most were Republican voters angry with the state of the state. They cheered loudly as Brady criticized the policies of current Democrat governor Pat Quinn, comparing him to ousted governor Rod Blagojevich and echoing the national tea party line of “taking our country back.”

But at least four of the attendees at the Oct. 11 rally were more than just average voters; they were Republican state legislators eager to support Brady and be seen with him in a year when they all face re-election themselves. Much in contrast to Democrat legislators, who often avoid Quinn’s rallies lest they be tied to what may be a sinking ship, state Sen. Dale Righter of Mattoon and state representatives Raymond Poe of Springfield, Chapin Rose of Mahomet and Ron Stephens of Highland had every confidence in their party’s candidate for governor.

“I can understand why the Democrat candidates are maybe a little bit gun-shy about being in public with Governor Quinn,” Righter says. “His numbers are disastrously low, particularly throughout downstate. I’m not sure what they do to get up and say, ‘This is why I’m for Pat Quinn.’ I mean, they rail against Bill Brady, but they’re really not talking about Pat Quinn, and there’s a reason for that – after 21 months, there’s no record that you can get up and talk proudly about.”

Who is Bill Brady, the candidate who surprised many political observers in the Republican primary by defeating fellow senator Kirk Dillard by just 193 votes, and who has managed to excite and unite his party into a solid voting base that consistently puts him ahead in the polls?

William E. Brady Jr., 49, grew up in Bloomington and met his wife, Nancy, while attending college at Illinois Wesleyan University. After graduating in 1983, the couple married and had three children. Their oldest daughter, Katie, is a nurse in Chicago, their middle son, Will, is attending law school at DePaul University, and their youngest son, Duncan, is a junior in high school.

“Family is obviously the most important thing to me,” Brady says. “But business is important to me, creating jobs.”

Around the time he married his college sweetheart, Brady started a Christmas tree farm with his brothers, Ed and Bob Brady, then moved into the family construction business their father started. There the Republican candidate helped streamline operations to get through the recession of the early 1980s, according to his campaign website. The company website claims it is one of the largest homebuilding companies in Illinois, having built 1,800 homes, 2,000 apartment buildings and more than 100,000 square feet of commercial property in Illinois. Bill Brady manages the real estate portion of the business, while his brothers handle the construction aspect. The company has built six houses for St. Jude Children’s Hospital and donated more than $500,000 for cancer research, the website says.

Brady served four terms in the Illinois House of Representatives from 1993 to 2000 and is now finishing his third term in the Illinois Senate while campaigning for governor on a platform of financial responsibility and building a better business atmosphere in Illinois. He has promised very deep cuts in state spending if he wins, planning to cut 10 percent immediately, then order a “forensic” audit of state spending that would examine state contracts, agencies and programs to identify waste, fraud and abuse. “Forensic” usually refers to criminal investigations.

“We’re going to start by cutting spending by a dime on every dollar,” Brady says, “and then we’re going to order a forensic audit to drill down to the basic needs and highest priorities of the people of Illinois: protecting public safety and working with the remaining resources we have to meet the highest priorities of the citizens of this state.”

But Auditor General Bill Holland, whose office would conduct the proposed forensic audit under a resolution Brady cosponsored earlier this legislative session, says the idea isn’t as simple as it sounds. The resolution calls for an audit of the last nine years of state business, contracts and programs, but Holland points out that the state processes about 15 million checks each year, for a total of 135 million checks to be potentially examined. That’s in addition to around half a million state contracts and numerous government programs. A normal audit of a single agency takes about nine months, Holland notes, and that only requires examining a sample of each agency’s contracts, expenditures and practices.

Holland says a forensic audit means the “application of accounting methods to tracking and collecting forensic evidence, usually for the investigation and prosecution of a criminal act.”

“That presupposes that a criminal act took place,” he says. “It would be a very deep, very thorough audit …. It would take several years and cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Not only would it be a massive and costly undertaking, Holland notes, but it would likely cause problems with the annual financial and compliance audits of state agencies his office already performs.

Brady greets supporters in Charleston after a rally.
PHOTO BY PATRICK YEAGLE


“It would drive the very people I have to work with on financial and compliance audits probably to be less cooperative because at the same time I would be doing an aggressive forensic audit,” he says. “Frankly, the moment you start getting into something that might not even prove a criminal act but might raise a lot of questions, those people are probably going to lawyer up, and it will take forever…. It sounds like a good idea, but people should really sit down and make sure they know what they’re calling for.”

When asked about the lengthy and costly nature of a potential forensic audit, Brady simply reiterates his intent to seek out spending cuts.

“We’ll start with a dime on every dollar,” he says. “We realize, given the crisis Gov. Quinn has put us in, there’s going to have to be more, which is why we know we need the audit to evaluate where he’s been spending money – waste, fraud, abuse. There are going to be some difficult decisions that are going to have to be made, working with the legislature. But it’s got to be a balanced budget. We’ve got to re-right the ship, redefine Illinois government within the means we have available.”

Brady has called for cuts to the state’s Medicaid program, where he says his proposed forensic audit would reveal fraud, mismanagement and abuse. He also favors switching many Medicaid patients to a managed care system – the type currently administered by many Health Management Organizations (HMOs) – to control the cost of health care.

Dr. Kent Redfield, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois Springfield, says Brady’s cuts would likely have a deeply negative impact on Springfield’s economy. Redfield has studied state government since 1979, after working for the legislature for four years.

“If we’re going to talk 10 percent, we’re taking a lot of stuff of the table,” Redfield says. “You’re going to have to significantly reduce headcount in state agencies and programs, and since so much of state government is located in Springfield, it’s definitely going to have a major impact. In order to get that overall savings without new revenue, you’re going to end up with a reduction in the number of people taking home paychecks in Sangamon County.”

Redfield says education and health care will likely take the brunt of the cuts, because they make up most of the state’s budget. Brady’s cuts would likely result in some combination of furloughs, fewer teachers and higher property taxes.

Redfield says the cuts would also affect the City of Springfield’s income because the state gives one-tenth of income tax revenue back to municipal governments.

“Balancing the state budget and getting to that magic figure in terms of cuts involves eliminating revenue sharing between state and local governments,” he says. “You’re going to get higher property taxes locally or a reduction in services. You take that money away from the city and county, and you’re looking at impacts on police, fire….Then on the education side, if you’re reducing state aid, you either make that up through higher property taxes or reducing the number of teachers.”

Brady has repeatedly declined to say whether his proposed 10 percent cut would be across the board or targeted to certain agencies or programs. If the cut is across the board, it would reduce the current state education budget by $928 million, from $9.28 billion to $8.36 billion. The Department of Healthcare and Family Services, which oversees Medicaid and child support, would see its budget reduced from $7.97 billion to $7.17 billion, a $797 million cut. The 2011 budget from the state’s General Revenue Fund would be cut from about $26 billion to $23.4 billion, a $2.6 billion cut. With the state facing an estimated $13 billion budget deficit, Brady would have to cut billions more to balance the budget without a tax increase. The state would also likely lose money from federal matching funds.

The Republican hopeful proposes to save more money by switching pensions for future state hires to a “defined contribution” plan, in which the state’s contribution is limited to a specific rate. In the current “defined benefit” system, an employee’s benefit level is guaranteed and the state’s contribution depends on a formula specific to each employee. The Chicago-based Center for Tax and Budget Accountability says switching pension systems would actually cost the state more in administrative costs, however. Current state employee benefits are guaranteed in Article 13, Section 5 of the state constitution, so the state would essentially have two different retirement systems to manage – a defined benefit system for current retirees, and a defined contribution system for future retirees. The state would not see any savings on current retirees.

Redfield says changing the system “doesn’t do anything for liability or the actual bottom line,” referring to the state’s unfunded pension liability of $73 billion and the pension payments that liability requires.

“You’re also going to have to start paying Social Security for those new hires,” he adds.

In addition to cutting state spending, Brady says he would create a better business climate in Illinois by eliminating many taxes and fees on businesses and passing limits on lawsuit damages. He also proposes a series of tax credits to entice businesses to relocate to Illinois or continue to operate here, including credits to reward businesses that create new jobs, offset the cost of energy for manufacturers and reduce taxes for research and development firms.

A group called Veterans for Bill Brady shows its support.
PHOTO BY PATRICK YEAGLE


“You can’t be for jobs and against business any more than you can be for eggs and against chickens,” Brady quips.

To reform campaign finance, Brady advocates $4,800 limits on political contributions from individuals for each election cycle, along with bans on contributions from corporations and unions. There are currently no dollar limits on campaign contributions in Illinois, and corporations and unions can give unlimited amounts of money to candidates. Since July 1, Brady has added about $9 million in campaign funds to his previous total of $2.3 million, according to paperwork filed with the State Board of Elections. Much of Brady’s campaign money came from Illinois companies that would be banned from giving under his reform proposal.

Brady says he hopes to take redistricting power away from the General Assembly and give it to the State Board of Elections, which would use computer software to generate district maps based on population density and other factors.

On a range of social issues, Brady is decidedly conservative. He says he would sign legislation allowing concealed carry of firearms in Illinois, one of two states that do not currently allow it.  Shortly after winning the Republican nomination for governor, Brady introduced a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage and civil unions, and he sponsored a bill that would allow certain organizations to discriminate based on sexual orientation. He has advocated lowering the minimum wage and opposed a constitutional amendment to create a graduated-rate income tax system in which those with higher income would pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes. In a questionnaire administered by Project Vote Smart in 2002, Brady indicated he believes abortion should only be allowed when a woman’s health is in danger. He has not filled out an updated questionnaire for 2010, despite requests from that organization. He has also removed his name from several legislative bills that drew criticism, including a bill he introduced to legalize mass euthanasia in animal shelters.

Brady says he wants to be governor because he wants to change Illinois to undo what he called the “Blagojevich-Quinn style of government.”

“People have said, ‘Bill, why would anyone want to be governor of Illinois?’ ” Brady said, addressing the rally. “Most of our governors seem to make license plates in their after careers, but the truth of the matter is, I want to be governor of Illinois for the same reasons you’re here tonight. I can’t think of a state or a time or a place that I’d rather be governor, because I can’t think of a greater opportunity than what lies ahead of us to change the future of our state and the future of our children and our grandchildren.”

Brady also insists he can cut enough to balance the budget in one year without a tax increase, saying “the math works out.”

But Redfield says Brady’s campaign may be making promises it can’t keep.

“I don’t think it’s a realistic agenda,” Redfield says. “There’s a political aspect to it. No matter what happens in the House, the Democrats are still going to control the Senate, so it’s not like Brady is going to come in with a huge Republican majority that will allow him to have carte blanche.

“The economic reality is that it’s not a one-year sort of thing, even if you’re going to do total austerity,” he continues. “If we’re going to essentially shrink the size of government to live within the existing revenue structure and get out of debt, it would be significantly smaller government. We’re going to be paying more money for a lower level of basic services.”

In voter polls, Brady holds a steady lead of several points over Pat Quinn. Out of at least 27 polls done since Brady’s Republican nomination was announced on March 5, all but two polls have shown Brady leading Quinn, some by as many as 13 percentage points.

That could mean not only a victory for Brady, but for Republicans in general this year, because having a winning candidate at the top of the ballot often helps other candidates of the same party. National dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party could also play a role, and Brady is confident that 2010 will be a Republican year.

“If the election were today, Chapin Rose, Raymond Poe and Dale Righter would be going to Springfield to be part of a majority caucus instead of a minority caucus,” Brady predicted to the crowd at his rally. “… I promise you, if you are willing to do everything in your power to support our election candidates, they will win.”

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.

Other Profile Articles on 2010 Gubernatorial candidates
Lex Green, Libertarian Party – July 8, 2010
Rich Whitney, Green Party – July 15, 2010
Scott Lee Cohen, Independent – July 29, 2010
Pat Quinn, Democratic Party – Sept. 2, 2010

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