Fowler insists it's time to stop pointing fingers and take responsibility
As Harrisburg Mayor Dale Fowler starts staffing for his campaign in Senate District 59, he said he is troubled by the lack of progress in Springfield, especially after the ongoing failure to pass a full budget.
“Our campaign is in the staffing mode right now … being staffed with full-time and part-time internships and personnel," Fowler said. "Things are continuing to move forward (with the campaign). Everything else is kind of in status quo, honestly, with the budget, education and business climate. Really not a whole lot has changed since we talked last.”
The House canceled several special legislative sessions over the summer mere weeks after long-term budget talks failed to advance.
Gov. Bruce Rauner stated he believed that House Speaker Mike Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, is playing games with the taxpayers.
Fowler agreed with the governor, stating that canceling the session is counterproductive.
“I mean, why would you (cancel the session)?" he asked. "I guess (Madigan) just felt like it was a waste of time. That’s a shame. In my opinion, there is no waste of time when it comes to tax payers dollars.”
As taxpayers are left in limbo due to the lack of a long-term budget, the state itself is left facing the consequences. Moody’s Investors Services, a bond credit rating agency, cut Illinois credit rating to Baa2. This downgrade is a feeble two steps above junk level status.
“Oh my goodness; It’s embarrassing enough as it is,” Fowler said in response to the downgrade. “We had the worst credit rating in the nation already and then, you think when it can’t get any worse … the credit rating is still continuing to decline even though we are already the worst. It’s going to take a lot of effort and initiative to become 49th instead of 50th. And also, it’s irresponsible as well and appalling. When our credit ratings go down, our interest rates go up.”
Fowler compared the state’s credit troubles to that of an average individual’s dilemma with credit card companies if that individual were late on payments.
“It’s like an individual’s credit card," he said. "Let’s say a credit card company offers an individual 3.9 percent and all of a sudden you don’t make your payment timely … so what happens - 3.9 percent goes to 29.9 percent or some astronomical hike. Even though it’s not really apples to apples, but the analogy and theory is similar.”
While not exactly alike, running a state with a balanced budget faces the same complications as running a family or business, Fowler said.
“We have to relate that to the citizens,” Fowler said. “We have to put it into perspective of our everyday operations as a family or a business or whatever it may be. The theories are still similar to each other. Bottom line is, you don’t buy what you can’t afford. You don’t buy a half-a-million dollar house on a $50,000 a year income, do you?”
This mismanagement of funds has already attracted the ire of the FBI, which claims that the state owes the bureau $3 million for services it provided. Fowler insists that the state not only needs to figure out payments but needs to be transparent about it to the public.
“They need to do a better job of informing the public," he said. "It’s one thing to owe that money, but how is that being compounded by not paying that bill? (For example), if we owe them $2 million now, are we still going (to owe) the same $2 million in six months or is that $2 million going to be $2.1 million because we are not timely?”
Fowler described a familiar scenario of interest going to go up and up as debt piles up. The interest on the late payments are enough to fund several school districts, he said.
This may sound like good news to some school superintendents, who recently criticized Rauner for the inaction on the budget and on school funding. In a written letter signed by dozens of superintendents, Rauner was accused of playing politics and that the school funding formula needs an overhaul.
Fowler, in response, said that it is easy to point fingers.
“Well, again, it is the special interests and politicians pointing fingers at each other," he said. "That’s easy to do. That’s all that has been going. No one is going to step up and take responsibility, unfortunately.”
Fowler said he believes that voters are now more aware of what is happening and that this crisis did not spontaneously ignite in 2016.
“I think the voters are smart people," he said. "They know this didn’t happen overnight. Where has everyone been in the last 10 years that has allowed (the situation) to get here? Everyone is very astute to know that this didn’t (all) happen in fiscal 2016. This just didn’t all occur in 2016 once our governor was elected. I think he (Rauner) wants to fund education. He has made that point. But you cannot spend money you don’t have.”
Fowler elaborated on the issue of the state’s funding allocation by pointing out a video on Illinois Policy's Youtube page in which state Rep. Dwight Kay questioned Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie about the budget and how the funds are allocated. Watching the video, Fowler was flabbergasted at the coy answers by Currie about why programs were funded and their importance.
”There wasn’t good answers as to why (various programs) were even in the budget,” Fowler said. “I know it’s quite an endeavor to go line item by line item on a budget, especially in the magnitude of the state of Illinois or any other state; but when you are balancing out a budget, it is imperative that you do so. You start working that way in advance. You just don’t throw $800,000 there or $1.2 million there just because it was there in the past and can’t be really accountable for it or explain why it was even in the budget. That’s the embarrassing part. They were not even explain why (specific programs) were even in the budget.”
The funding adds up and what was once $800,000 is now part of a larger trove of spending of which there is no clear response for their importance, Fowler said. He said that the state cannot take anymore callous overspending and needs accountability.
It is time to stop with the blame game and stop with the finger pointing because, as Fowler put it, it is not getting us anywhere.
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Harrisburg, IL 62946