CHICAGO — Illinois’ new governor, Bruce Rauner, took his first shot Monday at addressing the state’s crippling financial crisis, ordering all state agencies to freeze nonessential spending.
State workers were also instructed to turn down office thermostats and turn off lights to save money when their offices are not in use, according to a wide-ranging executive order from the Republican first-time officeholder and former private-equity investor.
In his inaugural address, Rauner said Illinois’ history of bad fiscal management was hurting the state’s ability to compete.
“Our government has spent more than we could afford; borrowed money and called it revenue,” he said. “Rather than responsibly budgeting the money we had, we implemented programs we couldn’t afford.”
The Land of Lincoln is buckling under a chronic structural budget deficit and the lowest credit ratings and worst-funded pension system among the 50 states. The fiscal crisis is the worst the state has seen for decades and could be the nation’s biggest. The problems are also weighing on its largest city, Chicago, which is struggling with a big pension funding burden of its own.
Rauner ordered agencies to produce lists of contracts that could be terminated and, with certain exceptions, to put a hold on new state contracts and grants until July 1. He also ordered a halt on planning for highway projects pending reviews, put limits on state worker travel and said the state should sell equipment it does not need.
Rauner also said that the fifth-largest state is facing moral and ethical crises and that he will sign an order Tuesday to improve ethics and accountability in the executive branch of state government.
Pension payments are projected to jump to nearly $7.6 billion in fiscal 2016 from $6.8 billion this fiscal year as the state defends cost-saving reforms in court. Outgoing Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget office recently estimated that Illinois’ unpaid bills will climb to $9.8 billion at the end of fiscal 2016, from $4 billion this year.