State Capitol Q&A: Gov. Quinn's Taxpayer Action Board

Eric Naing

Just as he created the Illinois Reform Commission to come up with ethics reform ideas, Gov. Pat Quinn has created the Taxpayer Action Board to develop ways to reduce government spending.

This week's State Capitol Q&A takes a look at Quinn's Taxpayer Action Board and what impact it might have on the legislature's looming state budget negotiations - if any:

Q: Who is on this board?

A: The Taxpayer Action Board consists of 33 people from different ideological and professional backgrounds. Members include former Republican Rep. Ruth Munson of Elgin, Illinois Business Roundtable president Jeff Mays and University of Illinois Institute of Government and Public Affairs senior fellow Jim Nowlan.

Tom Johnson, president of the Taxpayers Federation of Illinois, serves as chairman of the board. During former Gov. Jim Thompson's administration, Johnson served as the state's director of revenue.

Q: What will the board do?

A: The Taxpayer Action Board is supposed to evaluate all state programs to find ways to streamline government operations and reduce government spending.

"We're not looking at the revenue side of government at all," said Johnson. "We're just looking at the programs that spend public funds."

The board has divided its work into subcommittees that focus on subjects such as Medicaid, human services, education, pensions, health care for state employees and other government operations.

The board plans to release a report detailing its recommendations around May 22.

Q: When does the board meet?

A: Since its creation on March 20, the board and its subcommittees have held 11 meetings at the Thompson Center in Chicago, all of which have been open to the public. The meetings are also broadcast live at the State Capitol in Springfield. One more meeting of the full board is scheduled for May 22.

Q: What ideas have the board discussed?

A: Among other ideas, the board has discussed raising health care costs for state employees, implementing a two-tiered pension system for old and new state employees, and consolidating the state's 870 school districts.

Q: I know how to reduce government spending. How can I get involved?

A: Interested participants are encouraged to leave comments and suggestions for the board at http://budget.illinois.gov/tab/. Information regarding when and where future meetings will be held can also be found at that Web site.

Q: How much impact will this board really have?

A: Johnson said that the board will make recommendations for both the short and long term. The governor may implement some of these recommendations through simple executive actions, while others will require bargaining with unions or legislative action.

With the May 31 deadline to pass a budget looming, and with ethics reform and a capital construction plan on their plate, legislators are hesitant to say whether they will consider voting on the board's recommendations this spring.

Rikeesha Phelon, spokeswoman for Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said Cullerton will read the board's report but is "not sure about whether he can add implementation to the agenda yet."

Q: The Illinois Reform Commission warned against selectively implementing "some reforms while ignoring other key proposals" from its own report. Will the Taxpayer Action Board require the same thing?

A: Johnson said he will not demand that all of the board's recommendations be implemented. "The report will just be our ideas about where opportunities to deal with the budget exist," said Johnson. "It's up to the governor as to what he does from that point forward."

Q: What happens to the board after May 22?

A: Johnson does not know whether the Taxpayer Action Board will remain active after it releases its report but suggested that Gov. Quinn take a closer look at specific ideas from the report.

"Maybe the governor could create a specific task force to dig deeper into one specific idea," he said.

Quinn spokesman Bob Reed said the governor will pick an "appropriate time table" to implement recommendations made by the board and is hopeful some of those could be done in the coming year. He'll also evaluate whether to continue the board or take another approach.

Contact Eric Naing at eric.naing@sj-r.com.