Monday, July 10, 2006

Gov. Blagojevich: The opportunity of perceived crisis

Links added at 2:15 pm on Tuesday
Deputy Governor Bradley Tusk: ...He [Gov. Blagojevich [D-IL]] said, “I don’t see that [2003 budget deficit issues] as a problem.” I see that as a chance to do things. Because only when you’re in that moment of perceived crisis can you really get the political will to do things that otherwise wouldn’t happen...
Below is a partial transcript from tonight's City of Chicago edition of Public Affairs [Cable Ch. 21, 8:30 pm], featuring Deputy Governor Bradley Tusk. Go here for more about the show and to link to a video podcast of that episode and other episodes of "Public Affairs."
Jeff Berkowitz: We’ll get to education, but thinking of the big picture—you’re there, you’re meeting with, and I always get [the pronunciation] wrong- John Wyma?

Bradley Tusk [Deputy Governor to Gov. Blagojevich [D-IL]]: Yep.

Jeff Berkowitz: And Lon Monk [former Gov. Blagojevich Chief of Staff and now his campaign manager, See here and here] .

Bradley Tusk: Umhmm.

Jeff Berkowitz: And Rod Blagojevich, and Rod, of course, is an Illinois person, but Lon Monk is—where’s he from?

Bradley Tusk: California, Los Angeles.

Jeff Berkowitz: California.

Bradley Tusk: Yeah.

Jeff Berkowitz: [Blagojevich] met him out at Pepperdine [in Malibu, California] [University] when they were in law school.

Bradley Tusk: Yeah.

Jeff Berkowitz: You’re a New Yorker.

Bradley Tusk: Yeah.

Jeff Berkowitz: Anybody here an Illinoisan?

Bradley Tusk: I think now we’re all Illinoisans.

Jeff Berkowitz: Yes, but was it tough coming in?

Bradley Tusk: It probably was a little bit. I think that the reception that I got when I first started this job was a little mixed. The [Springfield] Journal Register ran a cartoon showing Rod with a baby seat next to him in a car, and that was supposed to be me, because I was twenty nine years old at the time. But keep in mind, I think when the Governor came into office, he really wanted to go about governing in a way that lent itself to picking people who weren’t necessarily part of the system already. I think he wanted people who were outsiders, to a certain extent, who were willing to take a fresh look at things, and maybe weren’t necessarily planning to spend their entire lives making a living in Springfield-- so you were a little more willing to be the bad guy. And, he had people who didn’t mind saying no, who didn’t mind saying “we can’t do that,” who didn’t mind playing the bad cop if need be, and that gave him in some ways a little more flexibility and freedom than I think if he had just a cadre of people who had been political insiders in Springfield for a generation.

Jeff Berkowitz: So, are you Dr. No of the Rod Blagojevich Administration? [Ed. Note: The question is somewhat ironic in light of comments made later on in the show by Bradley Tusk regarding former Governor Jim Edgar. Tusk stated that Jim Edgar cut education spending twice during his eight year administration. And, Jim Edgar was often referred to as Dr. No during his eight years as Governor for his reputation of being an austere budget guy].

Bradley Tusk: Sometimes. Sometimes. I prefer to be a guy who says yes, but there are times where you have got to say no. And governing, as I have learned, is a combination of both. At the end of the day, I think what governing is that people come to you all day with problems and choices and you have to make the best decisions you can for the best reasons you can, and none of them are going to make everyone happy. And, what I have learned is you tend to reach the best decision when everybody’s a little bit unhappy. When one person’s really happy and someone else is really unhappy, that probably means that someone did too well. When everyone’s really unhappy, you wonder what you did wrong. When everyone basically can live with it, but they didn’t get everything they wanted, that means you probably reached the right result.

Jeff Berkowitz: Were the marching orders for this administration [from Gov. Blagojevich] as you came in “don’t raise the sales tax,” “don’t raise the income tax,” “improve education, improve healthcare, figure out how to do it.” Is that basically it?

Bradley Tusk: Yeah. That’s exactly right. Here was the model and I came in- I think it was March 9th [2003] that was my first day, and we presented our budget a month later, April 9th and they had been working on it already, but as you know there was a five billion dollar budget deficit. And, the parameters were remarkable, because it was exactly what you just said. We’re not going to raise income tax. We’re not going to raise the sales tax. Let’s take the two biggest sources of revenue off the table. We’re going to put a lot more money in our schools. We’re going to make sure a lot more people get healthcare. We’re going to have to spend more money. And that created, in some ways, an incredible challenge. But, it also created an incredible opportunity. And, I remember that in the Governor’s first budget address, he said, “People have said to me, ‘I’m really sorry you have to take office in such a difficult time.’” He said, “I don’t see that as a problem.” I see that as a chance to do things. Because only when you’re in that moment of perceived crisis can you really get the political will to do things that otherwise wouldn’t happen. So for example, under George Ryan, there were seventy thousand state employees. Today, we’re at fifty six thousand five hundred. I don’t know that you can get budgets approved that have such a dramatically smaller work force when times are really good, when you don’t have deficits, and when there’s not that perceived need to find ways to save money. But we were able to do that. We were able to keep it small.

Jeff Berkowitz: A lot of early retirement?

Bradley Tusk: Mostly early retirement, and then attrition has been the rest. And then we’ve steadily brought it down.

Jeff Berkowitz: The Republicans say they were all Republicans [who you got rid of] so that you got rid of all the Rs, and now you’re slowly building it back up with Democrats.

Bradley Tusk: That would be true if we had more people today than we started with. But, we have five thousand people fewer. Early retirement took us from seventy [thousand] to about sixty two [thousand], I think-- or something like that. Now we’re at fifty six [thousand], five [hundred]. So we keep getting smaller, and by the way, we want to keep getting smaller. For example, this year we launched an initiative called “shared services,” and the idea there is that you don’t need to have thirty different agencies performing back-office functions. You don’t need thirty different personnel departments, and HR and accounting and mailrooms, and you should merge these into one or two or three or four, but have as few as you need, because why should the taxpayers be spending money on the same functions over and over again? We have nineteen fewer state agencies than we had four years ago because, again, they were just doing duplicative work. The idea has been that what we’re trying to do is make state government a lot more efficient, a lot smaller, and that frees up money that can then be spent. So, let me just finish the thought here. So for example, this year by having thirteen thousand fewer state employees than Ryan had, we will save eight hundred thirty million dollars. That’s all money that then helps us fund these dramatic increases in education and healthcare. And so, the perceived crisis of the five billion dollar budget deficit is what put us in a position to make some of these more difficult moves. And, so the paradigm that you laid out earlier--

Jeff Berkowitz: Let’s say that is right and you saved the state eight hundred million dollars.

Bradley Tusk: Right, Eight thirty.

Jeff Berkowitz: You said you don’t want to raise taxes. You talked about a tax swap. I stole this from hearing what you said on “At Issue” with Craig Dellimore-

Bradley Tusk: Sure.

Jeff Berkowitz: But you were asked on that show about a tax swap and you said, well, you don’t want a tax swap—if it were revenue neutral, that’s not an increase in taxes—but presumably they want more revenue, more revenue means you have to raise taxes, you don’t think people in Illinois should be paying more taxes, so you don’t favor that [a tax swap, raising the income tax—and by more than you cut the property tax].

Bradley Tusk: Correct.

Jeff Berkowitz: But, you went to the University of Chicago for law school, and across the Midway [at the University of Chicago], you would learn in economics that there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch [TANSTAAFL]. Right?

Bradley Tusk: Right.

Jeff Berkowitz: You might even have learned that in law school. So where did this come from? [in other words, what is the opportunity cost of the 3.8 billion dollars spent on education? what was given up to finance it?] You talked about eight hundred million dollars in savings, so that helps you spend more on education and health care, but you have said that in the first four years of the Blagojevich administration, a $3.8 billion dollar increase, you claim, on education [funding] by the state, right? [and where did the $ 3.8 billion come from?]

Bradley Tusk: By the way, it’s not that I claim-- Just look at the budget books.

Jeff Berkowitz: Well, how much is the state contributing to education total?

Bradley Tusk: The state spends—I think it’s $ 8.8 billion in this year’s budget.

Jeff Berkowitz: And, you are claiming that it was $5 billion when you started?

Bradley Tusk: No. Here’s how it works. It’s a $3.8 billion collective increase over four years. So, the way that works is that there was a four hundred million dollar increase in year one. There was a three hundred eighty nine million dollar increase in year two. However, what you don’t do is say, okay, we’ll take you back to zero. So, the base goes up by four hundred million dollars. Then, the next year you have to meet the base, so it’s another four hundred million dollars that you didn’t have before plus three eighty nine. Then the next year it’s four hundred, three eighty nine and the next amount and so on. So that adds up over four years to $3.8 billion dollars. The base was $7.3 billion dollars when we came in.

Jeff Berkowitz: So the base—and maybe that’s a better way of looking at it, maybe not—but the base has gone up by $1.5 billion dollars, you’re asserting.

Bradley Tusk: Well, it is and as a point of comparison…

Public Affairs, Deputy Governor Bradley Tusk was recorded on June 25, 2006 and it aired last night on the City of Chicago edition of Public Affairs, July 10 at 8:30 pm on Cable Ch. 21. . The show with Bradley Tusk is also available as a video podcast at the Public Affairs Cinema Complex, along with more than twenty-five other shows, which are also airing there. [See here].
Transcript draft prepared by Amy Allen, who also does research for “Public Affairs,” and has her own political blog [See here].
Jeff Berkowitz, Show Host/Producer of "Public Affairs," and Executive Legal Recruiter doing legal search can be reached at