"Mr. Sick and Tired" joins "Whizzo the Budget Fixer" and many other concerned Illinoisans who now have Gov. Patrick Quinn's ear heading into the budget season. The Web site - www.budget.illinois.gov - launched Wednesday and already has more than 3,000 suggestions, roughly 1,500 of which are available for public consumption. Some comments have been filtered for inappropriate language or duplication of previous points.
Meet "Mr. Sick and Tired," one of Gov. Pat Quinn's newly solicited budget advisers.
"Mr. Sick and Tired," a Chicago resident, suggests a dramatic pay cut to elected officials to help balance the state budget. His policy is echoed by thousands of colleagues using the state's new budget Web site, which seeks input from everyday citizens on Illinois' messy finance situation.
"Try living off the low wages that normal every day Chicago citizens do," "Mr. Sick and Tired" wrote. "I'm 35 years old and I get paid $15 per hour and am taxed to the point where I can barely make my rent every month and feed myself."
"Mr. Sick and Tired" joins "Whizzo the Budget Fixer" and many other concerned Illinoisans who now have Quinn's ear heading into the budget season.
The Web site - www.budget.illinois.gov - launched Wednesday and already has more than 3,000 suggestions, roughly 1,500 of which are available for public consumption. Some comments have been filtered for inappropriate language or duplication of previous points.
Most can be lumped into two categories: angry rants directed at out-of-control spending or inadequate budget solutions that wouldn't quite fix a projected $13 billion deficit.
"I feel the state needs to cut more 'fat' out of government & raise the state income tax slightly," wrote Steven Kuper of Springfield. "When this recession does turn around the state needs to refrain from spending on issues that are not necessary."
"One step towards the solution is to eliminate the state income tax," commented Danny Landreth of Rockford. "It's confusing and the processing drains money from most taxpayers because they have to pay someone to prepare the tax forms for submission. Employers have an additional burden by withholding and disbursing the money to Illinois."
But a handful of comments contain practical solutions, officials say.
Kelly Kraft, a spokeswoman for Quinn's budget office, said a team of nine staff members including herself monitor the comments throughout the day and dwindle the mass down to the most realistic suggestions to eventually show Quinn.
By the time the site reached 1,000 comments on Thursday, Kraft said her team had about 50 useful comments to show the governor.
"The governor and I just wrapped up a meeting where we reviewed many of the comments that have come into the site," Kraft said. "There are several good ideas and that's what we are looking for, good comments that we will consider while shaping the FY'11 Budget."
With the site now well over the 3,000 mark, Kraft said the budget office will use the weekend to form a lengthy list of highlighted comments to give Quinn.
"The governor doesn't have time to look at all 3,000 comments," Kraft said. "But we have a team that is highlighting the feasible suggestions and writing down interesting and creative suggestions to be used."
But how creative can average citizens be with an issue so complex as the state's budget?
Many have readily identified the pension system as a main source of failure. But hardly any realize the state's current obligations cannot simply be ignored.
Others present a more unique approach.
Sheila Sasso from Chicago wrote she would work as a volunteer citizen deputy and would do nothing all day except drive around and specialize in ticketing drivers who stay in the left lane - a process she says could net at least $3 million within the first year.
Another Chicago commentator, Kevin Taylor, wrote it was unnecessary for the governor to use a new pen every time he signs a new piece of legislation.
Chris Mooney, a professor of Political Studies with the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois Springfield, said most of the suggestions will likely have little effect on the way the state does business.
He also questioned the timing of the site's launch, which came just more than two weeks before the governor's budget address on March 10.
"How could anything on this (Web site) have an impact on what is going to be said?" Mooney said. "The budget is put together over the course of an entire year and has the input of hundreds of people and specialists. And now two weeks before, (Quinn) sets up a blog to get input?
"Yes, they want input, they like input because of good policy and want to keep their jobs. But when you get this kind of thing, it strikes me as more useful politically, if useful at all."
Some lawmakers wonder if the suggestions are falling upon deaf ears. The site was included as part of the deal the Senate and Quinn struck that delayed the governor's budget address.
"This is the general population thinking that their voice is being heard, and maybe it is," said State Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield. "I suspect that it is not and only the governor can answer that. But I'd be surprised if he did."
State Sen. Bill Brady, a Bloomington Republican likely to be Quinn's challenger for governor this fall, said the site will only be useful if used correctly.
"It it's treated like a blog with only a number of people paying attention, then it will be useless information," he said.
Kraft said the governor and his budget office are taking the comments - at least the ones that make sense - very seriously.
"Those that thought this was just a gimmick, I just don't see where they are coming from," she said.
Kraft said plans to reveal the highlighted comments presented to the governor are in the process and likely to be made public sometime next week. Kraft said there are also plans to contact the commentators that made the best suggestions directly.
Making the site more user-friendly is also a possibility. But budget restrictions may limit them in that capacity.
Many say more transparency - for whatever motive - is a positive.
State Rep. Chuck Jefferson, D-Rockford, said getting input from those facing the reality of the budget hole is a good idea.
"We moved back the budget address so (Quinn) could listen to some of these folks and get some ideas from those suggestions," Jefferson said. "I think it's a good idea if we can get something from the people and their comments."
And even though most of the comments don't represent viable alternatives, Mooney said reform has to start somewhere.
"The only way politicians are going to do anything about this is if they get goosed into it by the general public," he said. "And (politicians) will be the first ones to tell you that. At some point, people are going to have to get involved to motivate activity downtown."
Brian Feldt can be reached at 217-782-6292 or Brian.email@example.com.
A look at some of the comments from GateHouse Media-area residents on the budget Web site:
Pamela Yeager, Springfield
There is too much traveling of state employees. Keep them in their offices and SKYPE if they need to see each other or see documents. SKYPE is free.
Kevin Beeson, Springfield
Stop spending money on websites. ...
Robert Lynn, Springfield
I think that the working man has had enough!
Randy Soland, Springfield
Raise the sales tax. Follow Dan Hynes proposal to amend the tax structure and raise income taxes on only those who are making over $200,000.
Tony Hamelin Springfield
Look to Wisconsin and consolidate the state universities into a single system, much like Wisconsin. They merged the University of Wisconsin and Wisconsin State University Systems, and saved hundreds of millions of dollars by reducing administrative duplications, and programs. The merger even led to a better higher education system.
Anthony Hamelin, Springfield
CLOSE U.I.S. The state has too many university campuses. The smallest, UIS, in springfield, if smaller than most community colleges. There's no need for this campus. I recommend UIS be closed.
Fred W. Spannaus, Decatur
You can save an easy $100 million by abolishing the death penalty.
Christopher B. Barton, Peoria
What a (farce). Less than a 10% top-level cut, and a 20% increase in pension contribution. I cannot suport additional taxation for a status quo budget. First get serious about right sizing government, aligning the public pension system to be equivalent with private industry, and downsizing the medicaid obligation.
Terry Spuler, Peoria
1. Please pay your existing bills. ... 2. Stop adding new items to a budget when there are no funds available to pay for it. ... 3. Resolve and work towards a budget that will allow you to be debt free.
Kendra Moses, Peoria
Please do not make more cuts to human services! I'm both a state employee and a parent of a 21 year old son with a disability. He lives at home and I pay out of pocket for every service he receives except for 20 hours per week of vocational training paid thru DHS.
Ashley Roth, East Peoria
Our school district is being hit by the budget problems of the state. We are losing many of our instructional aides that help our students in so many invaluable ways.
I would suggest an across the board 10% wage cut with selective cuts of up to 30%. While this will have a small effect on the overall budget, it is exactly what individual businesses and people have to do when the times get tough.
Stan Chappell, Rockford
No new or increased taxes are needed, just collect on what is already in place. Internet & mail-order operations are stealing huge revenues (sales taxes, profits & jobs) from our brick & morter (established, tax paying & collecting bodies).
Dan Yuccas, Rockford
The word tax should not be uttered from any public official until the current pension and health insurance structure is eliminated.
A DIFFERENT SITE
Some online forum posters have a reputation of attacking one another without consequences, mainly because users can say whatever they want without being easily identified.
Quinn's site is somewhat of a different beast, said Chris Mooney, a professor of Political Studies with the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois Springfield.
To give a suggestion, commentators are required to give a hometown and a comment - and that's all. Most, though, have given full names, albeit some of them clearly not real ones.
"I think blogs are a terrible thing in American public because there is no responsibility," Mooney said. "It's interesting and a good thing that many people (on the site) are owning what they say, which is unlike a lot of blogs."
But instead of becoming angry with each other, nearly every commentator has kept their displeasure directed toward the government.
"People are mad," Mooney said. "Various people are mad for various reasons because state government is in such bad shape."
Kelly Kraft, a spokeswoman for Quinn's budget office, said despite the lack of information, the administration have ways to contact commenters directly but didn't elaborate on that. Some comments don't ever make the site because of inappropriate content.