Category Archives: Commentary

Sorry, Seniors — We Were All Taken For A Ride

By Andy Shaw, BGA President & CEO

Photo courtesy Salim Virji/Flickr

The BGA loves seniors. In fact, some of us watchdogs wear the gray mantle proudly.

But the old saying that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” actually rings true in this daunting and sometimes frightening era of massive government deficits, bloated bureaucracies, unaffordable services and benefits, and intolerable patronage. So the BGA is proud to have waged a successful campaign to eliminate the unaffordable aspects of the “Seniors Ride Free” transit program. The freebie was an ill-advised political stunt by our disgraced former governor Rod Blagojevich, and it proved to be a mismanaged, abuse-ridden boondoggle, as we demonstrated in an investigative series with FOX Chicago News that we titled “Riding While Dead.” More than a third of the free rides were taken by seniors with incomes above $55,000 a year, at a time when the state is billions of dollars in the red.

So we applaud the Illinois lawmakers who followed our stories and approved legislation that restricts the program to the neediest seniors, those taking home less than $25,000 a year. And we appreciate Gov. Pat Quinn signing a measure he opposed until recently. There are, sadly, still far too many “free lunches” permeating government. That’s a big part of the public sector fiscal crisis. Ending free rides for seniors won’t end the free lunch mentality, but it’ll take a few fries off the plate. Now we’ll go after the budget-busting burgers.

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I.G. Joe: Ferguson’s truth-squad unearths troubling furlough findings

By Andy Shaw, BGA President & CEO

Way to go Joe! The value of an independent inspector general free of political pressure is once again writ large as Chicago I.G. Joe Ferguson unearths reporting inaccuracies in the city’s employee furlough program—those unpaid days off that city workers from Mayor Daley on down are forced to swallow to save money—and how the inaccuracies create serious budget and pension problems for Chicago taxpayers.

(Feb. 8, 2011) Inspector General Releases Report on City Furlough Program’s Impact on Pensions

The City of Chicago Office of Inspector General (IGO) released a report today stating that the City publicly overstated savings realized from its furlough program by $11.05 million. Additionally, the IGO report found that the furlough program will result in increasing the funding shortfall of City employees’ pension funds by approximately $24.55 million dollars.

“As the City tackles its daunting structural deficit, it is important the full impact of those efforts are accurately calculated and fully disclosed to the public,” said Inspector General Joseph Ferguson.

Since mid-2009, the City has used furloughs (mandatory unpaid time off) as a way to cut costs, resulting in a reported savings of approximately $134 million.

However, the IGO found that the City actually saved $11.05 million less than has been reported….


This is the kind of information the City Council’s well-staffed Finance and Budget committees should be providing, but they don’t. So the BGA, and Chicago taxpayers, are grateful to Ferguson’s office, which—like the BGA—is expanding the scope of its mandate to include policy analysis and recommendations, in addition to investigations of waste, fraud and misconduct. Better government is a right and a responsibility, and if we all do our work smartly, aggressively and creatively—with the support of like-minded groups and citizens—it can become a reality.

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