State taxpayer-subsidized Illinois Public Media, former governor Edgar take sides in budget battle. Their own.
On the final day of May, amid some of the highest drama Springfield has seen in decades, Champaign’s Illinois Public Media treated it like a coup: an interview with former Gov. Jim Edgar.
That’s former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar, who would surely, on cue, blame the running budget impasse not on the Chicago Democrats who have run both legislative chambers unchecked for decades, but on first-term Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.
“Stopgap is the worst kind of budget you can have,” Edgar said, reacting to a proposal by Rauner to fund schools and social services.
“It sounds like you’re saying that you think these are Band-Aids that aren’t really solving a very serious problem,” grilled host Niala Boodhoo.
“You’re kicking the can down the road,” Edgar said. “I had high hopes for the state. Then we got the turnaround agenda, which made it impossible for the Democrats to go along.”
Lest one wonder how a two-term GOP governor who once sparred daily with the Chicago Machine would become its chief apologist, consider his personal bank account.
Edgar, 69, has been on the state payroll for going on 40 years, since he was just 30 years old.
Edgar left state government in 1999, but is still paid more than $25,000 per month by Illinois taxpayers, who fund his pension and salary at the University of Illinois, where he is paid to opine on issues such as the state budget impasse.
Also consider Edgar’s legacy as governor, now under serious fire. Upon leaving office in 1998, he bragged about increasing pension benefits for state workers. And his 1994 pension plan, then largely ignored, has been called an “obscenely backloaded can-kick” by Mark Glennon, a state budget analyst and the publisher of Wirepoints, which has chronicled the state pension crisis.
In 2013, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) said the state of Illinois misled investors buying its bonds when it didn’t disclose that Edgar’s 1994 plan was inadequate.
The Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research reported last month that state taxpayers are already $371 billion in debt thanks to unfunded promises Edgar and others made to government employee pensioners. That’s $78,000 per household.
“Edgar is a leading culprit in today’s budget crisis,” Glennon said. “He has no understanding of pensions whatsoever and offers no real answers.”
Not that Boodhoo, the host, would be a likely candidate to ask.
Her daily radio show, the 21st, is itself paid for by state taxpayers. It’s sponsored by the state taxpayer-funded University of Illinois Library, which boasts during commercial breaks that it “fosters discovery by providing information curation and archival services to extend scholarly impact from Urbana-Champaign to the state, the nation, and the world.”
And Illinois Public Media, which hosts the show and pays Boodhoo, itself needs state funds to survive. One-third of its operating budget -- approximately $3.5 million per year -- comes from state taxpayers, according to an audit of its 2015 financials.
In her coup interview, Boodhoo led Edgar to criticize Rauner. She didn’t ask him tough questions-- about whether he shared blame for the state’s current financial situation, or why compromise on the state budget always means borrowing and taxing more, and never means paying state employees less.
“Do you think enough lawmakers realize the costs -- of what we’ve suffered as a state -- going almost an entire year without a budget?,” Boodhoo asked.
Boodhoo and Edgar themselves haven’t personally suffered just yet -- but they remain vigilant.