Charting A New Course

As Governor Edgar began his administration by demanding that state government embrace the type of fiscal discipline that Illinoisans must demonstrate every day to balance their own checkbooks. To put it simply, the state should have to live within its means and stop spending money it did not have.

Instead of raising taxes, the Governor charted a new fiscal course. In his two terms in office, the budget was balanced; spending was slashed by more than $2.5 billion; programs were restructured, streamlined and eliminated. Despite adding thousands of new state employees for child welfare, he reduced the overall number of state workers by 2500 and economic development efforts were enhanced to improve the business climate.

Bolstered by Edgar’s sound financial management, a mountain of unpaid bills was paid off, record high funding was provided for education, Wall Street upgraded the state’s bond ratings and unemployment reached a 25-year low. By his final year in office, the budget was balanced and he left a surplus in the state’s coffers of $1.2 billion. And in 1998, Edgar provided income tax relief for Illinois wage earners for the first time in nearly 30 years.

“We have been forced to rethink our priorities and to respond responsibly to the challenges before us. We have done that without resorting to the age-old response of raising the cost of government to our citizens”– Jim Edgar

In his Inaugural speech, Edgar said Illinois could survive its tough fiscal times if it had the discipline to set priorities, to make budget cuts and look for new ways to approach old problems.

When Jim Edgar took the oath of office as the 38th Governor of Illinois on Jan. 14, 1991, he knew the state faced fiscal problems. He could not have imagined how bad. They would only get worse.

The national recession was weakening Illinois’ economy, pushing up jobless rates and welfare rolls and reducing tax revenues. Lawmakers had spent money the state did not have and delayed paying bills to make it appear that the fiscal books were balanced. The house of cards on which the state’s budget had been built was about to collapse.

The new Governor found a $1 billion hole in the budget that somehow needed to be plugged. There were more spending demands than the state could afford. Creditors were knocking at the door. And the Democratic- controlled General Assembly was waiting to see just how this Republican Governor would resolve this mess without abandoning his campaign pledge to veto any income and sales tax increases during his first term.

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So, once his dream of being governor became reality, Edgar confronted the nightmare of the state budget. It was a job for which he was eminently qualified, having spent more than two decades in on-the-job training in state government. He had been a state legislator, a legislative director under previous Gov. James R. Thompson and, for 10 years, Secretary of State.

Political observers were quick to say Edgar’s handling of the budget problem would determine his legacy. “He’s going to be judged on how he manages this state and how he gets through the fiscal crisis,” said Paul Green, political scientist at Governors State University.

As it turned out, Green was prophetic. Jim Edgar will be remembered for many achievements, but his ability to return Illinois government to a rock-solid fiscal footing may well be the accomplishment for which he will most be remembered.

“There are many responsibilities that a governor of the 1990s must meet, but none is more important than assuring that taxpayer dollars are managed effectively to meet the basic needs of today and to prepare Illinois for the challenges of a soon-to-dawn 21st century,” Edgar said.

The Governor began his administration by demanding that state government embrace the type of fiscal discipline that Illinoisans must demonstrate every day to balance their own checkbooks. To put it simply, the state would have to live within its means and stop spending money it did not have. While some suggested higher taxes to solve the unprecedented financial woes, Edgar stood firm in his belief that asking taxpayers to dig deeper into their pockets was not the answer.

Instead of raising taxes, the Governor charted a new fiscal direction. In his two terms in office, the budget was balanced; spending was slashed by more than $2.5 billion; programs were restructured, streamlined and eliminated; despite adding thousands of new state employees for critical jobs in corrections and child welfare, there were 2,500 fewer state workers than when Edgar took office; and economic development efforts were enhanced to improve the business climate. His strategy paid off.

Bolstered by sound financial management, a mountain of unpaid bills was paid off, record high funding was provided for education, Wall Street upgraded the state’s bond ratings and unemployment reached a 25-year low in 1998.

By his final year in office, Edgar’s budget problems had changed dramatically from what he inherited in 1991. No more did the state have to fend off bill collectors; instead, the Governor found himself cautioning legislators against using a now flush state treasury to once again overspend. The fiscal year general fund balance, nearly depleted when the Governor took office, reached an all-time record of $1.2 billion on June 30, 1998, at the close of the fiscal 1998 budget year.

The state’s robust fiscal health made it possible for Edgar to sign legislation in 1998 that provided income tax relief for Illinois wage earners for the first time in nearly 30 years. It was time. And it had taken time.

The Chicago Tribune in August 1997, speaking of Edgar’s leadership in putting the state finances on sound footing, noted, “The times demanded fiscal stability, and Jim Edgar is stability personified.”

Edgar was no stranger to dealing with the legislature, having spent nearly his entire adult life working in the state Capital. As Governor, he was effective year-in and year-out in getting the state budget approved with his priorities.

In December 1990, shortly after his successful gubernatorial campaign, two members of his transition team, Arthur F Quern, Gov. Thompson’s former chief of staff, and Pete Peters, former Illinois House GOP leader, visited the new Governor and delivered the bad news. The state’s fiscal mess was worse than originally thought. The excesses of the 1980s had caught up with Illinois and the state could not pay its bills on time. There would be no easy fix.

“Is it too late for a recount?” asked Edgar jokingly.

Even though he had yet to spend his first day as the state’s chief executive, the defining moment of the Edgar administration was already at hand. But Edgar had prepared his entire adult life to lead the state and he relished meeting the challenge.

The day after taking the oath of office, Edgar entered his office in the state Capitol and announced the state faced a $300 million shortfall in the fiscal budget he inherited and which still had five months to run. He instructed agencies to cut $87 million from their budgets. He ordered job vacancies frozen. He reduced or eliminated various contracts. Spending on travel and equipment was curtailed. Bond sales were reduced, and capital projects revised to slow spending, delay construction and reduce debt service. In his own office, Edgar slashed jobs, saving nearly $1 million in a single stroke.

Two months later, in his first budget address, Edgar told lawmakers that state government had not been watching the bottom line and had gone on a spending binge with money it did not have. “It is time that we tear up our credit cards and put a screeching halt to the spending spree,” the Governor said.

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Thus began a series of annual legislative budget battles that would severely test the Governor’s resolve. But even as Illinois flirted with fiscal disaster, Edgar stubbornly stayed the course. He set priorities — education, children and protecting the state’s neediest citizens. Other programs would have to tighten their belts. Much like Illinois’ citizens during this economic downturn, Edgar decreed that frugality would be state government’s watchword.

While lawmakers and editorial writers urged the Governor to resolve the budget crisis by raising taxes, Edgar refused. He had pledged to voters in the 1990 election he would not take more of their hard-earned money in higher general taxes. It was a promise he was determined to keep.

As his first legislative session stretched into overtime, Democratic Senate President Philip Rock told Edgar he must relent and hike taxes. “You’ve been dealt a bad hand,” the Governor quoted Rock as saying. “It’s not your fault, but we’ve got to raise taxes.”

Edgar pondered that and his own response: “I said, ‘No.’ “

Illinois’ fiscal problems began several years before the national recession of the 1990s. In fiscal year 1989, the General Assembly passed a temporary surcharge on income taxes to raise additional revenues for education and for local governments. That surcharge did not add one dime to the treasury for other programs, but the legislature overspent in fiscal 1991 anyway. Money was borrowed from the road fund. Medical claims went underfunded for state employees and medical providers who cared for the poor. Assistance grants to the elderly and disabled were delayed. And the state’s cash reserves fell perilously low.

Edgar said the state could no longer live beyond its means. He warned that bill collectors were knocking on the door and the state would begin the 1992 fiscal year with $627 million in unpaid bills. To dig Illinois out of this financial hole, the Governor presented a budget to cut appropriations by an unprecedented $440 million.

The Governor’s proposed budget cuts canceled cadet classes for new state troopers, delayed the opening of the new medium security Big Muddy River Correctional Center in southern Illinois and two work camps and two boot camps, closed two prison work centers, reduced welfare assistance and eliminated optional dental and optometry services. The budget eliminated 4,400 state jobs, including 1,400 layoffs, precluded pay raises for other state employees and dramatically cut the Department of Commerce and Community Affairs’ budget.

Making good on a campaign pledge and also recognizing necessity, Edgar urged lawmakers to make permanent the two-year temporary income tax surcharge that was due to expire. Continuation of the surcharge would allow education funding to increase slightly and fully fund essential programs for disadvantaged and vulnerable children. Without the surtax, “an unthinkable step backward,” Edgar said the budget would have to be revised from top to bottom.

Edgar’s budget speech anticipated the political battle ahead, but he warned lawmakers that there was little alternative. “I will sign no budget that spends more money than we have and that continues to jeopardize this state’s credit standing and future financial worthiness,” the Governor said.

The Chicago Tribune lauded Edgar’s forthrightness and called his first budget address a “wakeup call for the state.”

The new fiscal year began on July 1, 1991, but without a budget. The General Assembly was forced into an extended session that stretched to record length. The state missed its first payroll since the Great Depression of the 1920s and 1930s.

Success followed 19 days of politically intense, over-time sessions. The legislature passed a $27.6 billion budget that gave Edgar virtually everything he wanted. There was even additional funding for education and a plan to address the backlog of old bills. The income tax surcharge dedicated to education was made permanent.

“It wasn’t easy,” Edgar said of his initial legislative session as Governor. “Breaking old habits rarely is. We agonized, and we argued. We clashed over principles and priorities. We endured a legislative session of record longevity, a session more prolonged and difficult than any of us wished.”

Despite the cuts and some short-term borrowing, however, the state’s fiscal situation continued to deteriorate because of the growing recession.

The fiscal 1992 budget had been premised on a consensus by economists throughout the country that there would be a modest recovery from the recession. But the recovery was slow in reaching Illinois. Tax revenues lagged behind estimates by $285 million and spending pressures in the human services agencies increased by $235 million as unemployment and the demand for social services grew. By the middle of the fiscal year, Edgar knew the state was still in deep trouble.

Illinois did not stand alone in its fiscal woes. More than 30 states experienced revenue shortfalls due to the recession. New York increased taxes and was still confronted with a $1 billion budget gap. Florida had to make cuts and tap cash reserves to deal with a $622 million budget shortfall. The state of Washington had an $800 million budget hole and Indiana suffered a revenue shortfall of $160 million in December 1991 alone. But there was no consolation in the fact that Illinois had plenty of company.

In January 1992, Edgar used the customary State of the State address to give the General Assembly the budgetary bad news. “We must bite the bullet again, even harder,” he said. Tax increases were proposed, but the Governor opted for further cuts in state spending at least $350 million and a plan to short-term borrow $500 million and reduce the backlog of unpaid bills to medical providers. After several weeks of negotiations, the legislature agreed with Edgar’s proposed emergency budget act, which trimmed spending across the board by 7 percent. Even elementary and secondary education, higher education and public aid were not protected in this round of cuts.

“When you inherit a situation like he inherited, just keeping the ship from sinking is a tremendous job,” Sam Mitchell of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce said in a 1992 Chicago Enterprise interview.

Edgar’s budget plan for fiscal 1993 called for even deeper budget reductions. Most agencies were cut by an average of 12 percent. There was an additional $30 million for education, more money for the Department of Children and Family Services to comply with the requirements of a federal consent decree, and increased appropriations for mental health services and the opening of the critically needed Big Muddy Correctional Center and prison boot and work camps.

To launch these initiatives, Edgar suggested reallocating the local governments’ share of the income tax surcharge to the state. He also called on lawmakers to raise so-called “sin taxes” on tobacco products and liquor; to impose higher user fees at state parks, beaches and historic sites; and to increase professional licensing fees to raise about $100 million.

With elections looming in the fall, legislators told the Governor there was no support for the proposed sin taxes. Thus, the session focused on how to cut the Governor’s spending blueprint. Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan chopped Edgar’s budget by $350 million, but lawmakers decided $140 million in reductions was more realistic.

“I indicated I wanted a budget that was manageable,” Edgar said after the session. “This barely meets that requirement, and in some areas we’re probably stretching to say it’s manageable.” In July, the Governor used his veto pen to trim another $30 million, chiding legislators for sending him a budget replete with “fake cuts and other gimmicks.” He was not going to tolerate a flim-flam budget.

In a June 1992 speech at the Illinois GOP Convention, Edgar said, “If there is a silver lining to that black cloud that has hung over Illinois state finances in the last year and half, it is that we have been forced to rethink our priorities and to respond responsibly to the challenges before us. We have done that without resorting to the age-old response of raising the cost of government to our citizens. We have not … nor will we resort to increasing general state taxes to fund a bloated bureaucracy in Springfield or to finance the excesses of government.”

By early 1993, Illinois welcomed a modest economic recovery, which allowed Edgar to take a more optimistic tone in his third State of the State address. “Illinois is on the rebound and moving ahead,” the Governor said. “More of our people are working, more of our people are prospering.”

In March, Edgar unveiled his fiscal budget for 1994, which would make permanent the quarter percent income tax surcharge scheduled to expire on June 30 and redirect the revenue from local governments to education and child welfare.

“It might be more politically popular for me to recommend that we do not act,” Edgar said. “I could then claim my share of the credit for a modest reduction in state income taxes. Or it might be more expedient for me to recommend that we continue the surcharge and give local governments the state share of it that they are receiving this year about $211 million. But to take either of the politically expedient courses would be to take $211 million from education and from other programs for abused and neglected kids in defiance of a court order, and this Governor will not do that.”

Edgar anticipated a heated budget battle. He was correct.

Local governments challenged the plan, and House Republicans pushed for using the surcharge money to replace the “granny tax,” a $6.30 per day tax on private-paying nursing home residents imposed a year before to help fund the Medicaid assessment program.

The General Assembly deadlocked over the income tax surcharge, the future of the Medicaid assessment program and the budget. Lawmakers were sent home for much of June while budget negotiations between Edgar and legislative leaders continued. Facing a new fiscal year without a budget, Edgar mandated rate cuts for hospitals and nursing homes serving the poor. Employee labor unions protested the prospect of payless paydays for state workers.

The Governor and legislative leaders reached a tentative accord on June 29, but hopes for a timely end to the session faded when Democratic legislators in both the House and Senate balked. The session went into overtime and it was 11 days before another tentative budget deal was struck. This time the agreement passed. With it, Edgar achieved an important goal. The remaining income tax surcharge became permanent and was redirected to support education and child welfare programs. Also, the Medicaid assessment program was continued and cigarette taxes were increased 14 cents per pack to replace the granny tax. The budget allocated $145 million in hikes for elementary and secondary education funding and included welfare benefit increases. But the unpaid Medicaid bills still hovered near $1 billion.

In the fall of 1993, Edgar announced his candidacy for re-election and heralded the fact that Illinois had survived an unprecedented budget crisis and withstood the temptation to raise income and general sales taxes as an easy way out.

“When I came into office, I discovered state finances were in far worse shape than I expected,” Edgar said. “I could have practiced politics as usual, shrugged off my campaign promise and raised taxes. But we didn’t down-size the take-home pay of hardworking taxpayers. Instead, we downsized state government.

“We increased funding for education, for programs to help abused and neglected children, for mental health not by raising income and sales taxes but by cutting most of the rest of state government by about 30 percent. We didn’t demand more from taxpayers. We demanded more from ourselves more tough decisions, more courage to say ‘no’ and more innovation.”

Although the state economy continued to improve in 1993, a new problem surfaced. Like most states, Illinois incurred ballooning costs in its $4.7 billion Medicaid program, which is funded jointly with the federal government to provide medical assistance to the poor. From fiscal years 1991 to 1994, Medicaid spending increased $2.4 billion, or nearly 100 percent, due to rapidly rising medical costs and new federal requirements expanding eligibility for services.

For fiscal 1995, Edgar’s fourth budget, he proposed increasing education spending by a quarter of a billion dollars, including fully funding the Board of Higher Education’s request for the first time. The centerpiece of his budget address, however, dwelt on reforming the Medicaid system by moving the state’s 1.1 million Medicaid clients to a more cost-effective managed health care system.

For the second year in a row, the legislature’s self-imposed adjournment deadline came in May — and went, without major progress on the budget. On June 30, the last day of that fiscal year, Edgar broke the stalemate by announcing he had secured $388 million in additional funds through budget cuts, a modest debt refinancing and higher than expected revenues. Democrats derisively called it “magic money,” but the Senate quickly adopted the budget plan. The House adjourned without taking action, leading Edgar to call them back into special session the following day to act on a budget and Medicaid reform. But an agreement could not be reached.

The Governor and legislative leaders were to meet July 8, 1994, in Edgar’s Chicago office to further negotiate on a budget. Edgar, however, did not make the meeting. The night before, he had been admitted to a Downers Grove hospital for emergency heart surgery. As the four legislative leaders gathered, Edgar telephoned just hours after quadruple bypass surgery to urge a budget compromise. An agreement quickly followed and Edgar signed the $33.4 billion budget package in his hospital room. It provided a $280 million boost for education and $750 million to reduce unpaid Medicaid bills, now peaking at nearly $1.4 billion.

Shortly after winning a second term, Edgar went to work on a fiscal 1996 budget with a legislature now controlled by Republicans in both chambers. He suggested $294 million in additional funding for education, the largest hike ever proposed without a tax increase. This represented the first installment on his campaign commitment to increase the level of state aid to schools by $1 billion during his second term. Also, he earmarked significant increases for the departments of Children and Family Services and Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities, funding ongoing reforms in both agencies.

Once again, the Governor pushed for a massive overhaul of the state’s Medicaid program to curb costs, but Illinois could not implement the changes without federal government approval. Despite President Bill Clinton’s promise to the nation’s governors that waivers for Medicaid changes would be expedited, Illinois waited and waited for a positive word from Washington. “Even though the President of the United States has talked the talk, his bureaucrats have failed to walk the walk,” Edgar said in his March 1995 budget address. “They would rather fiddle and quibble.”

To control Medicaid spending, the Governor proposed maintaining the current rates for providers and continuing the provider assessment program. He rejected alternatives that would have eliminated medical benefits to 15,000 aged, blind and disabled people and cut off funding for nursing home care of 17,000 people.

Legislators worked under new time constraints in 1995. The previous year, voters adopted a constitutional amendment mandating that any legislation passed after May 31 would require a three-fifths majority to become effective immediately.

Five days before the May 31 deadline, both the House and Senate passed a $33.5 billion state budget and the earliest adjournment of the General adjourned Assembly in 62 years. Largely reflecting the Governor’s original recommendations, the enacted budget cut funding in several areas to compensate for reduced Medicaid assessments on hospitals by one-third. The budget plan called for phasing out the assessments in two years.

However, House Democrats withheld the votes necessary to authorize the additional sale of state bonds for new capital projects. As he signed the budget, Edgar said the lack of such authorization would aggravate over- crowding in the state’s prison system and hold up needed university and community college improvements.

In his January 1996 State of the State speech, Edgar was upbeat, finally able to say, “The state of our state is good.”

His fiscal year 1997 budget address two months later continued this positive tone. “After I became Governor, I urged the legislature to work with me to halt the spending binge, to blow away the smoke, to shatter the mirrors, to put this state’s fiscal house in order,” Edgar told lawmakers. “And together we have succeeded. Our fiscal house is in order.”

A rosier revenue forecast coupled with continued spending restraints allowed Edgar to say — for the first time since he took office that the state could pay its Medicaid bills on time, quicker than the state had done in at least a dozen years, and there would be no backlog of unpaid bills. The budget plan also eliminated the Medicaid assessment tax on hospitals and expanded education funding by $404 million. But bonding authority for new capital projects was again blocked by Democrats in the General Assembly. The legislature eventually approved the needed bond authority in February 1997.

Illinois’ good-time budgets continued in fiscal years 1998 and 1999. Negotiations centered on education funding reform and on how best to carve up the growing state revenues as Illinois enjoyed a robust economy.

In his final budget, the $38 billion plan for fiscal 1999 addressed many concerns that had previously been unaffordable. Tax relief for individuals and businesses. Cost- of-living hikes for social services providers. Extended health insurance coverage for children from poor and working-class families. Capital projects totaling $780 mil- lion. And a record $1.2 billion cash reserve for the next governor, George H. Ryan.

Education emerged the biggest winner. Funding for elementary and secondary education reached $5.2 bil- lion, $570 million more than the previous year, the largest one-year funding increase in Illinois history. Most of that funding more than $475 million was guaranteed in the Governor’s education reform enacted in December 1997. For the fifth straight year, the budget included full funding for the Board of Higher Education’s request, providing $148 million in new money for public colleges and universities and bringing the total funding for higher education to $2.2 billion.

Buoyed by the better times in the last two budget years, Edgar relished how far the administration and legislature had come since 1991.

“Seven years ago when I stood at this podium for the first time as Governor,” Edgar began his final State of the State speech in January 1998, “state government was squarely behind a fiscal eight ball. It had been living beyond its means. It had become heavy on bureaucracy and light on fiscal restraint. Spending was out of control. And a national recession was not only robbing us of revenues, but also adding to our costs as our people suffered layoffs and unemployment.

“I will never forget the embarrassment of the state not paying its bills on time, and the anguish of people who were out of work. They made lasting impressions on me and underscored the urgency of setting things right in Illinois. After all, government, those of us assembled here today, exists to solve the problems its people encounter and to prevent those that can be anticipated.

“We have done that. Our ability to meet the needs of our people during those tough economic times, without raising taxes, was in serious question. But we together responded to the challenge. We charted a new direction for Illinois.”

To cover the state’s budget problems, Edgar stood firm in restoring fiscal stability to Illinois without asking more from taxpayers. Here, in 1991, the Governor holds one of many discussions with legislative leaders to resolve the budget crisis.

With state government back on a solid financial footing, legislators facing re-election in 1998 decided to provide individuals and businesses with tax relief. After warning lawmakers not to get greedy, Edgar approved a plan that would provide taxpayers more than $96 million in income tax relief in 1999, increasing to about $321 million in tax relief by 2000. The legislation marked the first increase in the personal exemption since the Illinois income tax was enacted in 1969.

The new law increases individual exemptions for taxpayers incrementally from the current $1,000 to $2,000. When fully implemented, the first $8,000 in income for a family of four will be exempt from state taxes. The law also phases in a single sales factor apportionment for businesses over three years beginning in 1998. By 2000, more than 7,000 Illinois businesses will receive about $63 million in state tax savings from the changes.

With his new dog, Emy, at his side, Edgar works at his state Capitol desk during the early months of his administration.

Illinois collects $32 billion in revenue each year. While the state cannot ease the pain of paying taxes, it can make it easier to file income tax returns. In 1991, Illinois became one of the first states to accept individual income tax returns electronically, and by 1998 nearly a half million IL-1040s were received over computer lines.

The state also pioneered filing by telephone in 1998 and nearly 120,000 taxpayers took advantage of TeleFile.

To ensure the state receives all the taxes to which it is entitled, Illinois changed its collection emphasis. Rather than using field collectors as its primary enforcement tool, the state opted for identifying assets and consolidating multiple tax debt in a single collection account. The Illinois Collection System consolidates all debt owed by a taxpayer so collectors can pursue all tax types at the same time. It was implemented in 1993 and, during the first year of operation, there was a $28.5 million increase in collections. More than $280 million in tax debt and another $10.5 million in delinquent child support payments were collected in 1997.

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The goal of the Illinois Lottery is to raise money for the state’s Common School Fund. Since its inception in 1974, the Lottery has sold more than $24 billion in tickets and contributed nearly $9 billion for schools. More than half of that money came in during the eight years of the Edgar administration. Annual Lottery proceeds of some $575 million represent about 4.5 percent of the $13.2 billion spent on kindergarten through 12th grade public schools. Besides earning money for schools, the Lottery also has created about 900 millionaires.

Although the Lottery faced increasing competition from riverboats and other forms of entertainment, its top six sales years came during Edgar’s tenure, including a record $1.6 billion in 1996. In order to maintain its share of the entertainment dollar, however, the Lottery constantly reevaluates its games and promotes new ones. Sales of scratch-off instant tickets, once the step-child of Lottery products, realized five consecutive years of double-digit growth. In 1998, Lotto, the state’s flagship game, was totally revamped. The new game, which features fewer numbers, gives players better odds of winning and pays out winnings in a lump sum immediately, rather than over 20 years. As a result, Lotto sales rose for the first time in five years.

Perhaps the biggest Lottery news during the Edgar administration was the 1996 launch of a new six-state mega-jackpot game called “The Big Game.” Illinois took the lead in developing this game, which allowed it to compete with neighboring states offering the similar “Powerball” multi-state game.

In his first budget address to the General Assembly, Edgar said the state had been on a spending binge with money it did not have. His budget proposal for fiscal 1992 included unprecedented cuts totaling more than $400 million.

Lawmakers soon realized that Jim Edgar would bring a different style to the Governor’s office. With two decades of experience and as a student of government for his entire adult life, Edgar knew his way around the Springfield legislative process.

In 1991, Edgar’s first session as Governor, he used his legislative experience to pursue an ambitious agenda that had headlined his gubernatorial campaign enacting property tax caps, making the income tax surcharge permanent and balancing an out-of-balance budget with- out raising taxes. Not many gave Edgar much hope for success with the Democratic-controlled legislature. But he refused to budge from his campaign promises and the spring session stretched well into July.

The legislature finally conceded nearly every major point to the new Governor. This was unheard of in Springfield. With the session and impasse finally over, House Speaker Michael Madigan told reporters, “My experience in working with Jim Edgar through the last several months showed me just how tenacious he can be.”

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As with any governor and legislature, the relationship, at times, can be rocky. This was clearly true of Edgar’s dealings with the General Assembly and the Governor set the tone during his first session when he refused to back down on issues he was determined to win. He was particularly effective, year-in and year-out, in getting a state budget approved with his priorities intact. Often there was little new money. But throughout his administration, Edgar maintained his commitment to education and children, while cutting other spending, down- sizing state bureaucracy and opposing new taxes and unnecessary spending.

In the November 1994 elections, the GOP had wrested control of both legislative chambers from the Democrats. Sensing historic opportunity, Edgar challenged legislators to tackle a number of thorny issues that had long languished in Springfield.

“Property tax caps. Tort reform to spur job creation. School reform. Continued welfare-to-work initiatives. And anti-crime legislation I want all of it sent to me on a fast track,” Edgar told members of the 89th General Assembly during his 1995 State of the State address. Just seven weeks later, Edgar praised lawmakers in his budget address for delivering: “This legislature has shown the people of Illinois that progress can take the place of grid- lock and action can take the place of excuses.”

The single issue that most tested the Governor’s resolve and determination throughout his two terms in office was a fair solution to funding the state’s public ele- mentary and secondary schools. Even with Republicans in control of the House and Senate for two years, Edgar could not garner the necessary support for school fund- ing reform. In March 1996, his blue-ribbon panel of business leaders and education experts called for the state to fund half the cost of a basic education. Edgar asked law- makers to approve placing a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November. That way, voters could state their preference. Did they want higher taxes to raise the necessary funds coupled with a reduction in property taxes? The proposal did not receive a legislative hearing.

The next year, Edgar was back pushing for school funding reform. He said an increase in the state income and a reduction in local property taxes was the fairest way to raise the additional state dollars needed to guarantee that the state’s poorest school districts received adequate funding. But again he was denied. The House passed a bill that Edgar said would “do the right thing for school kids and for homeowners overburdened by property taxes.” The Senate blocked it.

In November 1997’s fall veto session, Edgar gave it yet another try. This time the plan passed muster in the Senate, only to fall four votes shy in the House. Edgar refused to concede defeat and kept the heat on legislators, particularly those from Chicago, who refused to support the idea. The Governor reconvened the legislature in December for a rare special session to press the debate on education funding reform. The legislation passed with votes to spare, mandating at least $4,225 in state funding per year per student. Instead of a hike in the income tax and property tax relief, the nearly $500 million in additional costs would come from increases in telephone, cigarette and riverboat casino taxes. Edgar would have preferred combining school funding with property tax relief, but he said, more importantly, “We took care of the equity issue for schools.”

After the Governor’s plan finally won legislative approval, the Chicago Tribune noted, “It can be frustrating to watch Edgar’s low-key negotiating style, but in the end he showed the difference between a politician and a true leader.”

Lawmakers learned not to test Edgar’s mettle on issues he felt strongly about, knowing they faced quick vetoes. The Governor, in fact, warned them early in his first term that any general tax hikes, except for an extension of the income tax surcharge, would be vetoed, as would new mandates for local governments that did not contain state funding to carry them out. The Governor twice vetoed legislation that would have upset the delicate balance of the state budget and several times struck down unfunded mandates.

Abortion was one issue on which the Governor and legislature sometimes disagreed. A supporter of a woman’s right to choice, Edgar vetoed legislation in 1998 that would have prohibited the Illinois Department of Public Aid from paying for abortions for poor women, except when necessary to save a woman’s life. “It has consistently been my position that an adult woman’s decision about whether or not to obtain an abortion is a highly personal one for her to make after consulting with her physician and conscience,” Edgar wrote in his veto message. “It is not a decision that should be dictated by whether or not she can afford to pay.”

The Governor also vetoed a measure in 1998 that would have provided a tax break to families of children enrolled in private schools, saying it would cost too much up to $100 million a year and likely would not stand a test of constitutionality.

Edgar used his veto pen sparingly. Instead, the Governor often relied on his amendatory veto powers to refine and improve legislation sent to his desk. For example, in 1998, he rewrote contradictory juvenile justice legislation to allow judges continued discretion in considering the best interest and rehabilitative potential of minors in appropriate cases. A year earlier, Edgar expanded a ban on partial birth abortions to deny biological fathers any legal standing in such cases.

As a candidate, Edgar promised to cap skyrocketing property taxes, which in some Chicago suburban counties had increased by double digits year after year. In 1991, the Governor, accompanied by GOP leaders state Sen. James “Pate” Phillip (left) and state Rep. Lee Daniels (right), signed property tax cap legislation for the collar counties.

Edgar recognized that local governments often suffer from state mandates that provide no funding. He pledged he would veto any legislation that sought to impose unfunded mandates. The Governor kept that promise, rebuffing the legislature’s frequent efforts to mandate projects at local expense. He also provided millions of dollars in financial assistance to communities, often with an eye toward improving business and benefiting the quality of life. Funds went for water and waste treatment facilities; maintaining and building bridges, highways, airports and public transportation systems; park and recreational improvements; and job training and other incentives for economic development.

Edgar enjoyed a close relationship with local governments, listening to their concerns and giving them unprecedented access to the Governor’s office. Fulfilling a campaign promise, Edgar assigned a key aide to be a liaison between his office and local officials.

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Still, Edgar’s administration and local governments went to the mat when he proposed, in 1993, to make permanent the local government portion of the income tax surcharge, but to reallocate the money to help with revenue shortfalls.

From its enactment in 1989, the surcharge provided millions of dollars to local governments, primarily for one- time expenditures, such as construction projects and other capital purchases. But facing a shortage of revenue, Edgar said $211 million was needed to fund education and programs for abused and neglected kids. “When it comes to a choice between kids and concrete, the kids must win,” Edgar told lawmakers in his March 1993 budget address. A fiscal 1994 budget compromise met Edgar’s goal of making the surcharge permanent. State government received the majority share, while local governments were guaranteed a portion of the revenue.

Though local governments’ surcharge share fell, municipalities realized a greater share of income taxes and motor fuel taxes in the Edgar years. In fiscal 1999 alone, the state will return $1.3 billion to local governments.

Although the news media often noted their differences, Edgar and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley worked together to accomplish much for Illinois’ largest city.

Edgar, the first downstate resident to be elected governor in 62 years, was accused by some of being anti- Chicago. The Edgar administration record, however, includes economic and infrastructure projects that have enhanced Chicago tourism and business as well as its social service programs.

Chief among those was the Governor’s support for a $1 billion expansion of McCormick Place, which ensured that Chicago remained the foremost convention city in America, and the dedication of a rejuvenated historic Navy Pier as a recreational magnet on the lakefront. Edgar also supported $110 million in bonding to relocate Lake Shore Drive and to create the new landscaped campus joining the Adler Planetarium, The Field Museum of Natural History and the John G. Shedd Aquarium, which was dedicated in 1998. The Governor signed legislation in July 1998 to authorize another $100 million in project bonds to provide additional parking at McCormick Place and a bus lane from downtown to the convention center.

His administration earmarked $450 million for the rehabilitation of the 30-year-old Kennedy Expressway, one of the largest, most extensive repair projects in the nation, and the upcoming $567 million rehabilitation of the Stevenson Expressway, which will be even more extensive. Millions of dollars also were funneled into public transportation and airport improvements.

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The state provided incentives to keep business in Chicago. For example, in 1993, the state allotted job training funds, established an enterprise zone and undertook infrastructure improvements that kept Nabisco Company, the world’s largest bakery, in the city where it invested almost $500 million in a modern new plant for 2,400 workers. Training grants and enterprise zone benefits to Tootsie Roll enabled the long-time Chicago manufacturer to spend $132 million for plant expansion on the south-west side, saving hundreds of jobs and creating 100 new ones.

To provide better services to Chicago’s 3 million residents, the Governor brokered a plan whereby the Illinois Department of Public Health laboratory would assume more than a million tests done annually by the Chicago Department of Public Health. He built a new $30 million State Police crime lab in Chicago to better coordinate crime fighting efforts with the Chicago Police Department.

Along with Mayor Richard M. Daley, Edgar helped entice Democrats to hold their 1996 national convention in Chicago, the first presidential convention in the city since 1968. The convention site, the United Center, had opened on the city’s west side in 1994, the product of a cooperative effort between the state, Chicago and the private sector.

Besides bricks, mortar and jobs, Edgar proposed and worked for landmark legislation to reform the often criticized Chicago school system. The 1995 reform package, recognized as a model for the nation, gave Daley the authority he desired to put in his own management team to run the city’s schools.

Edgar also proposed the controversial Medicaid assessment program that enabled inner-city hospitals to remain open.

To the chagrin of his own part, Edgar even stood up for Daley and the city when a GOP-backed bill was passed in 1995 to wipe out pay hikes for Daly, other city officials and aldermen. “This legislation is widely perceived to be retaliatory and would increase tensions between leaders in the city of Chicago and those who champion suburban interests. We need to ease not escalate those tensions,” the Governor said in vetoing the legislation.

However solidly they worked together, Edgar’s and Daley’s differences grabbed most of the headlines. The Governor’s consistent opposition to Daley’s many plans for casino gambling and a new sports arena, disagreement over the location of a third Chicago-area airport and a dispute over the continued use of Meigs Field often blurred what, in fact, was accomplished for Illinois’ largest city.

Edgar downsized state government, insisting on greater efficiency, economy and accountability from state employees. Even with the hiring of new correctional officers and child abuse caseworkers, there were 2,500 fewer employees under his control in 1998 that when he became Governor.

Greater efficiency and streamlining in state government are traditionally popular campaign themes. Once in office, however, a governor can find reducing and reorganizing the bureaucracy a nearly impossible task. Edgar’s campaign pledge echoed many of those before a leaner, more effective government.

But this time, with the treasury nearly bare, Plato’s famous rule began to shine, proving again that “necessity … is the mother of invention.” Thus did Edgar make good on his promise to trim the number of state employees.

Even with 4,000 new hirings to staff an expanding prison system and to add more child welfare case workers, there are 2,500 fewer state government employees under the Governor’s control than when he took office.

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Some agencies, like the Department of Commerce and community affairs, reduced payrolls by nearly 50 percent. The Department of Transportation cut 800 jobs, Department of Revenue trimmed 450 jobs. State government combined greater economy and efficiency to deliver quality services.

Edgar also oversaw the most comprehensive reorganization of state government since the early part of the century.

In February 1995, the Governor signed into law a sweeping overhaul of higher education administration. Out went the Illinois Board of Governors and the Board of Regents and their large bureaucracies.

Later that same year, Edgar merged several agencies into a new Department of Natural Resources. Under this umbrella were the Department of Conservation, the Division of Water Resources of the Department of Transportation, the Department of Mines and Minerals, the Department of Energy and Natural Resources, the State Museum and Scientific Surveys, and the Abandoned Mined Lands Reclamation Council. In 1996, Edgar merged the Office of the Commissioner of Savings and Residential Finance with the Office of the Commissioner of Banks and Trust Companies, creating a single, new agency called the Office of Banks and Real Estate.

Finally in 1997, Edgar merged three entire state agencies and parts of three others into the Department of Human Services (DHS). With a budget of $4.5 billion and 20,000 employees, DHS is now the largest state agency. It consolidated the departments of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities, Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, and Rehabilitation Services, as well as parts of Public Aid, Public Health, and Children and Family Services. Featured in the new agency is a “one-stop shopping” approach, replacing the fragmented, uncoordinated services of before.

“We have revolutionized the delivery of human services in Illinois,” Edgar proclaimed in his 1998 State of the State address. “We are working with communities and neighborhoods. We are listening to them. We also share responsibility with them. Programs and services once scattered among a half dozen agencies are now being administered by a single agency. A family that turns to government for assistance now deals with a case manager, who can tap into several different services needed to address the problems of the family as a whole.”

The genesis for this new department came in 1993 when Edgar announced in his State of the State message a reevaluation of how Illinois delivers services to children and their families. Funded by a $200,000 grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a reform task force presented recommendations in 1994. The group envisioned five field trial sites the Grand Boulevard neighborhood in Chicago, DuPage County, Lake County, Sangamon County and the state’s seven most southern counties. These field trial sites were viewed as laboratories in which the state could experiment with the idea of one-stop service delivery, listen to community needs, oversee essential services, and mentor and work with employers to accelerate the movement of people from welfare to work.

The new agency began operations July 1, 1997. In its first year, DHS was able to accomplish consolidation with- out a breakdown in service delivery, while, at the same time, using administrative savings to start new programs or to expand old ones.

Edgar reorganized three state agencies and parts of three others into the new Department of Human Services to better deliver social service programs and replace an out-of-date, fragmented and uncoordinated approach. Here, the Governor visits with children at a Peoria day care center.

Integrity is something Edgar has cultivated since entering political life. Likewise, he stressed it during his two campaigns for governor. Many believe his reputation for plain speaking and honesty is his greatest political asset.

Shortly after taking office, Edgar cut out many consultants with political connections to both parties. In 1992, he issued an Executive Order targeting abuse and waste in state purchases. It required that agencies verify why they suspended competitive bids as an emergency measure.

In September 1997, Edgar issued an unprecedented Executive Order addressing tougher ethics and procurement reforms for all executive agencies and departments. Also, he required each agency to assign an ethics officer. The new Edgar rules, considered among the strictest in the country by the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles, banned state employees from accepting gifts valued at more than $50 each year from lobbyists or others who do business with their respective state agencies. These same rules mandated competitive bidding for most state contracts exceeding $25,000.

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“The people of the state of Illinois are entitled to expect state officers and employees to make decisions in the performance of their public duties diligently, conscientiously, ethically and in the public interest,” Edgar said in his Executive Order. “Public service involves a high degree of mutual trust. State officers and employees have a moral obligation to maintain that public trust and confidence.”

At the Governor’s request, his ethics policies were enacted into law by the legislature in 1998. The law outlaws gift-giving to state employees and elected or or wants to do appointed officials by anyone who does business with the state.

The Edgar administration experienced little hint of scandal, but when it did surface, the Governor and his staff responded swiftly. In the most highly publicized incident, Edgar’s press secretary, Mike Lawrence, received an anonymous letter alleging impropriety with the 1993 renegotiation of a Department of Public Aid contract. Involved was one of the Governor’s biggest campaign contributors. Lawrence immediately turned the information over to the Illinois State Police, which coordinated the investigation.

“How you measure an administration is not so much if somebody makes a mistake. It’s how you react if you find a mistake,” Edgar told the Associated Press in December 1997.

In November 1998, Illinois voters approved an amendment to the state Constitution increasing accountability in the state’s judicial system. Edgar spearheaded the move for the change, adding two non-judges to the Illinois Courts Commission, which decides whether to discipline judges accused of misconduct.

Edgar traveled extensively throughout Illinois, listening to the concerns of his fellow citizens and seeking their advice and assistance in making Illinois an even greater state.

In 1998, the General Assembly finally approved a bill to clean up campaign finances, something Edgar began fighting for during his 1990 gubernatorial campaign.

Described as the most important campaign finance legislation in two decades, the Governor formally put his pen to the legislation in a ceremony at the Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. It was the institute’s director, U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, and its associate director, Mike Lawrence, Edgar’s former press secretary, who spearheaded the effort to produce the accord and guided it through the final days of the 1998 legislative session.

The Chicago Sun-Times wrote that Edgar and Simon “have earned a round of bipartisan public applause for the extensive and common sense array of campaign finance reforms.”

The Governor was not entirely satisfied with the bill, but signed it with confidence that other reforms would follow. Under the new law, lawmakers, for the first time, are restricted from using campaign funds for personal needs, such as cars, college tuition, travel, homes, retirement or debts. It also makes it illegal to solicit or to accept campaign donations on state property and to hold fund-raisers within a 50-mile radius of Springfield when the General Assembly is in session.

Edgar consistently championed greater disclosure of campaign funds, both how they are raised and how they are spent. So that the public would have better access to and more information about campaign financing, the law contained several far-reaching requirements. They include provisions that political action committees fully identify themselves, candidates who raise or spend $25,000 during a reporting period must file financial reports electronically and candidates are required to report the occupations and employers of anyone contributing more than $500. Penalties for violating campaign disclosure laws grew from $1,000 to $10,000 for statewide committees and from $1,000 to $5,000 for other committees.

The right of the public and the media to information became the driving force behind a bill Edgar signed in 1997 that required the Illinois Board of Elections to make campaign finance reports available on the Internet.

The State of Illinois Home Page went on-line in 1995. Depicted is a copy of the page from 1996.

With a push-and-shove from researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who in 1992 developed the first Web browser, the Internet took off in the 1990s as the latest component of the technology revolution. Edgar viewed the Internet as a way to make information about the state and its functions more readily available to the public and urged agencies, state boards and commissions to establish their own Web sites.

The state launched its initial site in 1993. In 1995, the State of Illinois Home Page went on-line, with Edgar as an avid and daily visitor. By mid-1998, in addition to the Governor and Lieutenant Governor’s pages, there were 89 agencies, boards, commissions and elected officials; nine state universities; 142 municipalities; and dozens of libraries, museums, tourism councils and other government related offices with Web sites linked to the state home page.

In addition to general information about state government and its various programs, the public can use the state’s Web site to purchase fishing and hunting licenses, to look up winning lottery numbers, to pay taxes electronically, to compare automobile and homeowner premiums, to bid on state contracts, to check on inmates in the state’s prison system, to download applications for birth and death records, to learn about the state’s environment, to access up-to-the-minute information on Chicago expressway congestion, to search a listing of Illinois technology resources, to review pictures and information on children awaiting adoption, and, during the Illinois State Fair, to watch videotape of each day’s main events.

The Governor takes advantage of an annual program to provide state employees with free flu shots. Edgar and the legislature boosted pensions and improved health coverage to help make government service more attractive.

While the fiscal times called for a reduction in the number of state employees during the Edgar administration, a concerted effort was made to improve state employee benefits and make a career in government service more attractive.

The Governor approved the most significant increase in pension benefits for state workers in a quarter century. Under this law, signed in 1997, state employees gave up a cost-of-living pay raise and payments for future unused sick days to boost their retirement pay by more than 50 percent. As a result, Illinois moved from next to last among states in pension benefits to near the national average. In addition, the Governor in 1994 proposed and signed legislation setting up a full-funding mechanism for the state’s retirement systems over the next 50 years.

Other improvements included providing 90 percent of state employees a managed care option, establishing a sick leave bank, adding vision and dental coverage, offering a long-term care insurance plan, allowing time off for the birth or adoption of children and for caring for ill family members, and implementing an accelerated benefits option to assist the terminally ill. To improve the health of state workers and to reduce absenteeism, free flu shots and health screenings are offered annually and all state buildings have been declared smoke free. Through an Executive Order, Edgar required sexual harassment training for all employees.