Governor cites strength of Illinois’ Congressional delegation,
need to examine expenditures as reasons for reform
Cancellation of business with Washington firms represents ongoing efforts at streamlining, consolidation
SPRINGFIELD -- In keeping with his administration’s ongoing efforts to carefully examine all areas of state spending, Gov. Rod Blagojevich is eliminating several expensive contracts that have required the state of Illinois to pay out large sums to Washington, D.C.-based lobbying and law firms.
“Reforming state government means not simply changing the way business has been done in Springfield for many years, but also the amount of business the state has awarded to firms in Washington, D.C.,” he said.
In recent weeks, Blagojevich has cancelled a pair of six figures deals with Washington, D.C. public affairs firms and legal offices. Another contract expired at the end of 2002. The Blagojevich administration declined to seek a renewal of it.
On Thursday, he is asking the State Board of Education to terminate a two-year contract that would have required the state to pay more than $330,000 annually.
“These costly contracts are another example of the state’s taxpayers shouldering a burden which they can ill afford at this time,” Blagojevich said.
In addition, the services called for under the contracts are of limited value, Blagojevich emphasized, because much of the lobbyists’ work merely duplicates efforts already being carried out by the state’s strong Congressional delegation.
“Relying on these firms ignores one of the great assets that we have-- a talented Congressional delegation, including the Speaker of the House and hard-working members from both sides of the aisle,” he added.
Among the two contracts that Blagojevich cancelled earlier this month was a deal worth a half-million dollars to the Washington, D.C. firm of Patton Boggs and the Washington, D.C. office of Mayer Brown. The contract called for lobbying on behalf of the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT).
He also terminated a contract between the Illinois Department of Public Aid and the Washington, D.C. office of the law firm Holland & Knight. The contract—which began in February 2001 before being renewed twice-- was originally due to expire at the end of June. During just one six month period, the firm was allowed to bill the state $150,000.
At Blagojevich’s direction, officials from IDOT and Public Aid notified the firms on February 10 that the contracts were being cancelled.
Patton Boggs also netted $567,500 from Illinois taxpayers last year thanks to a contract with several state agencies, led by the Department of Humans Services. The contract expired at the end of 2002. The Blagojevich administration did not seek its renewal.
On Thursday, Blagojevich will send a letter to Ron Gidwitz, chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education, urging the cancellation of an existing contract with the Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm of Barbour, Griffith & Rogers, Inc. (BGR).
Under the terms of the contract, the state would pay BGR as much as $330,000 per year. The existing contract-- awarded by the state’s Board of Education, the Board of Higher Education and the Community College Board-- was approved last month by board members. The state had already paid the firm more than $850,000 under a previous deal.
The contract is “entirely unwarranted at this time and is inconsistent with the goal that I have set to reduce spending throughout state government,” Blagojevich writes in the letter to Gidwitz.
“Therefore, I am urging you and the members of your board, at the earliest possible moment, to take steps to terminate the existing contract with Barbour, Griffith & Rogers. I consider this a priority, and hope that you will move quickly to take this important action,” he adds. Blagojevich is requesting action from the board members to void the contract with Barbour Griffith since it was awarded by the state boards, rather than by a department or agency directly under the control of the governor’s office.
In addition to fiscal concerns, Blagojevich said that such lobbying contracts are unnecessary given the quality of the state’s Congressional delegation, led by Rep. J. Dennis Hastert, the House speaker.
“I have great confidence in the abilities and commitment of talented members of the Illinois delegation-- led by Speaker Hastert-- to deliver the results that the contract assigns BGR to seek.,” he said.
“I am certain that their accomplishments in this area and their ability to work successfully across party lines will continue in the future, even if the role of a Washington-based firm is substantially reformed and reduced,” he added.
Blagojevich, a former member of the U.S. House, pledged to work in partnership with the Illinois House delegation and with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) as well as Senators from across the country, including key Republicans.
“I intend to maintain and enhance the solid bipartisan working relationship between members of the delegation and the Governor’s office to work toward accomplishments at the federal level that would be in the best interests of Illinois,” he said.
The termination of the contracts is in keeping with the steps toward consolidation and streamlining of services that have been central themes of the Blagojevich administration to date.
Since taking office five weeks ago, Blagojevich has taken several steps to determine whether state expenditures—even those that are the result of long-established spending practices—are essential given the state’s nearly five billion dollar deficit.
In recent weeks, for example, he has frozen payments for projects initiated as members’ initiatives; imposed a hiring freeze on agency directors; called for measures to reduce administrative costs at state universities and impose controls on spending by trustees at those institutions; prohibited heads of departments and agencies from acquiring new state vehicles; and initiated a review of whether the high-paid positions held by term-appointees are essential to the operation of state government.
He said the termination of Washington-based contracts is “a logical extension of this effort.”