Cross would sue to balance state budget : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|Cross would sue to balance state budget|
|Local state representative outlines his plans if elected state treasurer|
|by Tony Scott|
State Rep. Tom Cross said this week that, if elected state treasurer, he would sue to force the General Assembly and the governor to balance the budget.
Cross, R-Oswego, formally announced this week that he is running for the statewide office, which means he is serving his final term as state representative after more than 20 years in office.
Cross will be a candidate for treasurer in the March 2014 Republican Party primary, but he won't be alone on the ballot. Michael Scott Carter of Chicago, executive director of the Chicago Academy of Music, and Bob Grogan of Downers Grove, the DuPage County auditor, have both announced Republican candidacies for treasurer.
State Sen. Mike Frerichs, a Champaign Democrat, is also seeking the office, according to media reports.
Cross was first elected state representative in 1992, initially representing most of Kendall County. While redistricting in 2001 pushed his district boundary further to the east, eliminating much of his Kendall County territory, Cross still represented Oswego Township and other areas of the county.
In 2011, another round of redistricting further restricted his Kendall County territory, and the bulk of his current 97th District consists of Plainfield and Shorewood in Will County. He still represents a portion of Oswego and the unincorporated Boulder Hill subdivision in Kendall County.
Cross has since stepped down from his position as House Republican leader, which he held for a decade, and the State House GOP caucus elected Rep. Jim Durkin of Western Springs to the position on Aug. 29.
Cross said that deciding to run for statewide office was "kind of an evolving issue for me."
"I enjoy the General Assembly, I liked being the House Republican leader," he said. "I know we've done some good things. I started back when, there was a time where you could work with the Democrats and get things done. But just the last few years - and this has been gnawing at me for the last couple years - the financial condition of this state has gone the completely wrong way. So much of what we do is dependent upon having financial security and financial stability."
He continued, "I ultimately said, if we're gonna turn this around, I think I can make a bigger difference and have a greater impact coming at it from a statewide perspective. And I ultimately said, I'm gonna give up something I like, but I think the risk is worth it."
Cross said the condition of the state is "so bad" that "we need to spend the next few years turning the state around."
"And I think you can do that from the treasurer's office," he said.
Cross said the state constitution requires that the state balance the budget, but the state hasn't done that in seven or eight years and has $8 billion in unpaid bills.
"I think the treasurer's office has the ability, under the constitution, under the law, and should, file a lawsuit," he said. "And I think if we get elected, we will make sure the governor and the General Assembly know that if the budget isn't balanced, we're going to court."
Cross said he would be more "aggressive" than prior treasurers.
"Nothing against any prior treasurers, we're gonna be a little more aggressive, and try to be creative and also look at the law the way we think it's intended," he said. "And say, alright, General Assembly, somebody's gotta be looking over you. The Speaker - and I'm not saying this to be partisan or critical or anything - admitted a couple years ago that we haven't passed a balanced budget, and that's unacceptable."
Asked about the cost of a lawsuit, Cross said it would be "minimal" compared to the cost of an unbalanced budget.
"I don't think every problem should be solved by going to court, but I think this state and this General Assembly, and our governors, haven't had the will to balance the budget," he said.
The public should also be more educated on the financial problems of the state, and how they will impact residents on a local level, he said.
"I think part of this is awareness and education, and I think the public has not been aware of how bad the problem is," Cross said. "(The press) probably knows how bad it is, because you follow it, but I don't think the guy on the street understands how bad the pensions are, how bad the debt is, how bad unemployment is. We're finally getting to the point of the consequences of not getting stuff done: schools are going to suffer because we don't have any money, law enforcement's going to suffer because we don't have any money, the elderly and abused are going to suffer, the job climate is going to suffer with the highest unemployment (in the U.S.) with the exception of one other state. And I think we're just kind of getting to that point where people are going to start feeling that; at this point they haven't."
Cross said he's considered giving quarterly statements, similar to those given to a board of directors in the private sector.
"I don't think the documentation and information people have received over the last few years has been accurate or has even been given to us," he said.
Cross pointed to charges by the Securities and Exchange Commission earlier this year that the state conducted "securities fraud for misleading municipal bond investors about the state's approach to funding its pension obligations," according to the SEC.
"An SEC investigation revealed that Illinois failed to inform investors about the impact of problems with its pension funding schedule as the state offered and sold more than $2.2 billion worth of municipal bonds from 2005 to early 2009," SEC officials said in March.
Cross said he wants to establish a unit in the treasurer's office that examines bond documentation, pension documentation and other issues.
Cross said the attorney general's office has in-house attorneys to offset legal costs, stating they have "an obligation to represent constitutional officers." If Attorney General Lisa Madigan does not provide counsel, he said his office will "go get counsel."
"We want to establish a Government Integrity Unit, and we would have in-house counsel," he said.
According to recent media reports, 13 people have been indicted for allegedly embezzling $16 million in state commerce and health grants. Cross said the treasurer's office unit would look at such abuses.
"This isn't a matter of growing the office, this is a matter of using the people you have in there," he said.
Michael Mahoney, Cross' campaign spokesman, said the treasurer's office has about 180 full-time employees.
"So everything we have I think we can do under the current (personnel) structure," Mahoney said.
Cross said he hasn't determined if he will live full-time in Springfield; he does have an apartment there. The state constitution says the constitutional officers, including the treasurer, "shall keep the public records and maintain a residence at the seat of government during their terms of office."
"If I'm fortunate enough to win, I'll be in Springfield, I'll be in Chicago, I'll be all over the state," he said. "Because people need to know the consequences of not balancing budgets, and some of the fraud and abuse that's gone on. So we'll be all over."
Asked about any progress on the pension issue in the upcoming November veto session, Cross said it would be up to Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton. Cross said the pension costs in this budget year will be more than $8 billion out of a $34 million budget.
"I want it to be fair, and I want it to be reasonable, but it's gonna have to be meaningful, because this thing is out of control," he said.
Cross said the country has seen various pension systems run out of money.
"It's a balancing act between the constitution, the long-term stability of the pension, and trying not to hurt people," he said. "But I think as we've seen - whether it's in California, Alabama or Detroit - these things can run out of money. And you have to try to find that happy medium, and it's very difficult to do it. But if you don't... you could have a serious problem with the long-term stability of this pension system."
Cross said he was not in favor of shifting the cost of pension reform to local school districts, as has been proposed by Madigan. He said the General Assembly could adjust the pension benefits and enhance them in the future, which could cost the local school districts even more.
"The other thing is, we've always been concerned that shifting that away to locals could impact their ability to bond," Cross said.
Mahoney added, "It would immediately be on their debt balance sheet for liability, so even if you only transferred over a half a percent of payroll or something like that for Eastern Illinois University's bond rating, they would assume all liability for employees on the balance sheet."
No favorite in governor's
race, expects to spend $3M
Cross acknowledged that Republicans have been more successful in statewide office elections in non-Presidential election years, but his success is determined by other factors, including the popularity of national and state GOP figures and candidates.
"There are a lot of factors," he said. "What's the economy like? Is it booming, is it slowing down? What is the Affordable Care Act doing to the (economic) situation? So all these things will kind of play out above me."
Cross said he does not have a favorite in the GOP primary race for governor. Whoever wins will most likely face Gov. Pat Quinn in the November 2014 general election, as Democratic candidate Bill Daley announced Monday he was dropping out of the race.
"Look, they're all working hard, you can make an argument for all of them," Cross said. "I want one certainly that's going to articulate a vision for the state of Illinois. I think the treasurer's office can be helpful to a Republican governor in articulating the things we've talked about."
Cross estimates it will cost him $3 million to run his campaign for treasurer, compared to his first state rep campaign in 1992 that cost him less than $100,000.
Cross also said there is a shift in the concerns of residents from strictly about jobs to also worrying about the financial condition of the state.
"I think they know who's run the place, and the condition of the state, and why it's in that condition," he said. "So I think that helps us in the 2014 election."
Cross said his state rep office will continue to stay focused on local issues, along with the big issues that plague the entire state.
"Even as the House Republican leader, we never lost sight of our own district," he said. "And we always stayed kind of grounded, if you will, and that's not going to change."
Residents approach him at the grocery store, on the running trail and at the health club, and Cross said he still enjoys doing the job and talking to people. He said some have mistakenly thought that he would be holding on to his state rep job if he loses the treasurer race.
"I still enjoy it, I'm lucky," he said. "I wake up every day and enjoy it. I don't think I've ever had a day where I've woke up and dreaded going to work. And there's a risk here: because I could have run for the General Assembly again, I could've continued to be the leader. I feel like it's worth it and there's a chance to get elected, and it's not an automatic - no one gives you anything. So we're kind of rolling the dice."