You know when a newly instated governor takes a pass on $5 million in upgrades to the residence he will occupy for four years, or who urges state workers to turn off lights and turn down thermostats upon vacating their work spaces for the day, the state he has assumed stewardship of is in a bit of a pickle.
Which, for Illinois, is putting it mildly. And why Ill. Gov. Bruce Rauner's first act upon assuming office Monday was to issue an executive order halting award of state contracts.
The action froze $168 million in spending by Illinois State Tollway Authority for bridgework included in widening of Jane Addams Memorial Highway (I-90) from Elgin to the Tri-State Tollway (I-294). It also mothballed the $1.3-billion Illiana Tollway, a planned 47-mile project connecting I-65 in northwest Indiana to I-55 in northeast Illinois, about 58 miles south of Chicago.
“Major interstate projects which have not yet commenced will be reviewed,” reads a statement Rauner's office issued on Monday.
Lest anyone think the statement too terse, or action too swift, recall that chronic deficit has saddled Illinois with the lowest credit ratings and worst-funded pension system of any state in the nation. Prior to departing Springfield, former Gov. Pat Quinn indicated unpaid bills would climb from $4 billion in 2015 to $9.8 billion by the end of fiscal 2016.
Rauner spokesman Lance Trover indicated “careful review” of costs and benefits would determine the fate of major interstate projects. If that's the case, Illiana, a pet project of Quinn's, is probably a goner, and probably deservedly so. The more closely one scrutinized the numbers, the more clearly they didn't add up, meaning taxpayers likely would have been left holding the bag for the difference between Illiana's construction costs and the revenues the roadway generated from tolls.
Quinn was a huge proponent of transportation spending, figuring it killed two birds --- high unemployment, aging infrastructure – with one stone. It will be sobering to see if his successor arrives at the same conclusion.