As the Governor Turns

By Mark Garrity

In this month’s edition of as the Governor turns I’d like to ignore Governor Rauner claiming he wants to take over the Chicago Public Schools, a statement he’s made twice over the last few weeks; not so coincidentally right before CPS planned to float $875 million in bonds on the NY market. As Rich Miller of Capitol Fax and Greg Hinz of Crain’s Chicago Business point out,  it seems like Rauner is deliberately trying to stick it to half the population of the state to get his way. It may or may not work but it has delayed the bond issue twice now while Mayor Emanuel and CPS chief Forest Claypool seek to soothe buyers.  

Instead let’s take a look at the other announcement the Governor made on February 2nd at his press conference. He urged the State Assembly to pass a bill he said will reduce the time it takes to buy products by streamlining the state procurement process. He claims the state could save $514 million a year that he says could go to colleges and human service programs.
We are in a cash crunch,” Rauner said, touting his plan to overhaul the state system. The bill would allow state agencies to have a “pre-qualified pool of vendors” for various supplies and services so officials don’t have to go through the same steps every time they buy something. 
Rauner also wants Illinois to be able to join a contract that another state has in place in some cases to speed up the process or buy in bulk to save money. At the same time, the proposal would create a preference for buying from Illinois businesses. There might be a conflict between those two provisions but I suppose it could be resolved if Illinois, a much bigger state economically than our neighbors, takes the lead in the purchasing process as often as not. There’s no reason for our state agencies to be stuck buying from Indianapolis suppliers all the time if Chicago suppliers are a better, cheaper choice. All things being equal Illinois vendors should get as much or more of the business as any other state’s as long as our procurement buyers aren’t just piggy backing on their deals but originating combined state purchases too. 
He also wants one top procurement officer in the state instead of four. 
This all sounds reasonable. Far too often the cumbersome procurement process, adopted after abuses during the Blagojevich and Ryan administrations leads to state agencies bypassing the system in favor of emergency purchases which are only supposed to be used in rare cases. Using the regular system can cause delays because too many people are required to sign off on the contracts. Sadly those mid level government watchdogs who keep an eye on the state purse are the kind of bureaucrats the GOP likes to go after first when they say let’s tighten our belt and streamline government. But let’s not forget why we adopted this layered approach to procurement oversight in the first place. Clean government requires experienced people who know what to look for in procurement contracts and the way people have cheated the system in the past. All too often those are just the people shortsighted budget cutters want to ax. 
So while the governor’s proposal to streamline the procurement process may have some merit the devil is always in the details to use an awfully well worn cliche. It probably should be overhauled but let’s see what he has in mind first. If we’ve learned anything over the last year it’s that Rauner has little understanding of state government or even what powers he does and does not have as governor so let’s not take anything for granted.