August 7, 2002


As Illinois’ Comptroller, Dan Hynes gets paid $115,300 annually to be a grouch, nag, whiner and prophet of doom-and-gloom. For the past four years, Democrat Hynes has carped, complained, criticized and castigated the profligate spending and fiscal policies of the administration of Republican Governor George Ryan.

The state’s budget, which was $37.4 billion for fiscal 1999, the first year of Ryan’s reign, is now $53 billion. That’s an annual increase of about $4 billion, which was quite sustainable when the economy was booming. No more.

Ryan’s $12 billion Illinois First program to rebuild state roads and infrastructure, coupled with diminished tax revenues caused by a lagging economy, the September 11, 2001 jolt, and rising healthcare costs, has now created a huge budgetary hole: tax revenue for fiscal 2002 was $700 million less than in 2001, and projected revenue was $900 million less than anticipated, creating a shortfall of $1.6 billion. In other words, the state had already budgeted and spent $1.6 billion more than it expected to take in.

According to Hynes, this was a “fiscally reckless” course of action, and, not surprisingly, he blames Ryan and the Republican-controlled Illinois Senate. “They (the Senate) rejected my reforms,” which would have limited spending to 99 percent of actual revenue growth, with one percent of that amount allocated to the state’s Rainy Day Fund. The Democratic-controlled House passed Hynes’ plan. Give me a break: Hynes’ so-called reforms would not have stifled burgeoning state spending.

“And,” added Hynes, “the governor’s Bureau of the Budget, which is responsible for budgetary projections, inflated revenue receipts.” According to Hynes, “only the governor can control spending,” and “recent budgets have been too big.” Hynes is correct, but Ryan is not solely at fault. The Comptroller does admit that that Springfield’s orgy of spending is a “collective problem,” and that Build Illinois and other pork-laden projects would not be a reality unless the Democratic-controlled House approved them. Hynes temporarily froze all state spending last May on capital construction projects.

To close 2003’s budgetary hole, the state legislature approved a paltry $50 million in budgetary cuts, with the remainder satisfied with short-term borrowing through the issuance of state bonds. The 2003 budget anticipates an excess of $660 million in new revenues over expenditures which, when coupled with “revenue enhancements” – a euphemism for anticipated federal funds, lottery taxes, and income which prompts more taxes – would raise state income to more than $1 billion over expenditures.

“I dispute that scenario,” said Hynes. “We don’t know whether those enhancements will be received, or whether revenues will exceed expenditures.” If Hynes is right, the fiscal situation confronting Illinois’ next governor will be grim and glum. And, if Democrat Rod Blagojevich is Ryan’s successor, and his supporters clamor for more spending on their pet projects, a hike in the state’s sales and income tax is almost inevitable.

And that begs the inevitable question: Will Hynes, if re-elected to his current post – as he most surely will be – be as much of a nag and pest to Blagojevich as he has been to Ryan? Would Hynes have the temerity to generate headlines by accusing a new Democratic governor – or a Democratic-controlled Illinois House and Illinois Senate -- of being “fiscally reckless”?  Probably not.

For Hynes, age 34, total Democratic domination of state government (and especially the ensconcement of Blagojevich in the governor’s job) would be devastating setback to his short-term political ambitions. It would delay for at least eight years his anticipated run for governor. And it would impede, if not totally diminish, his ability to generate headlines by being a grouch and nag, and criticizing the governor.

Remember: Hynes said that the governor is responsible for budgeting and spending. So if Democrat Hynes castigates Democrat Blagojevich for budgeting and spending too much, then Hynes will risk alienating those Democratic constituencies to which Blagojevich, as governor, would be appealing by authorizing the spending. Does Hynes want to be a fiscal Scrouge? That might help him in a general election, but it won’t win him votes in a Democratic primary.

Hynes is the son of former Cook County Assessor Tom Hynes, the 19th Ward Democratic committeeman, Illinois’ Democratic national committeeman, and a longtime South Side ally of Chicago Mayor Rich Daley. Hynes the Elder cleared the path for young Hynes, then only five years out of law school and with zero financial experience, to run for comptroller in 1998; he was unopposed in the primary, and beat Republican Chris Lauzen by a stunning 614,413-vote margin (58.6 percent) in the election. The gameplan was to run Dan Hynes for attorney general in 2002, and then for governor in 2006 – when George Ryan was presumably to retire.

But the vagaries of politics intervened. Ryan, amid the ever-expanding bribes-for-licenses scandal when he was Secretary of State, chose to retire in 2002. Young Hynes was not yet seasoned enough to run for governor. And Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan did what Daddy Hynes did in 1998: he cleared the path for daughter Lisa to run for attorney general. So Dan Hynes had no option except to run for re-election.

Hynes’ 2002 Republican foe is Thomas Jefferson Ramsdell, a Wilmette attorney who utterly lacks the visibility and finances to give Hynes a tough race.  Ramsdell has raised less than $25,000 for his campaign, and his message – to stop “orgy check writing” in Springfield, promote “efficiency and cost-cutting,” and arrange an “amnesty” for delinquent taxpayers to pay up – will never be heard. Ramsdell will be lucky to break 35 percent in November.

Ramsdell’s only hope is that voters might want some check-and-balance in state government, and opt for a Republican for comptroller if they select a Democrat for governor. For example, Democrat Roland Burris was comptroller from 1978 to 1990, during Republican Jim Thompson’s governorship, and he perfected the art of carp-and-criticize fiscal headline-grabbing during that period -- and ran for and won the attorney general’s job in 1990. Democrat Dawn Clark Netsch did likewise during the 1990-94 period, when she was comptroller and Republican Jim Edgar was governor. During the 1994-98 term, when Republican Loleta Didrickson was comptroller, and Edgar governor, she didn’t get nearly the visibility of her predecessors, as she didn’t nag Edgar, and she lost her bid for U.S. Senator in the1998 Republican primary to Peter Fitzgerald.

If Blagojevich is elected governor, and Lisa Madigan attorney general, thereby forestalling his climb up the statewide ladder, then Hynes’ next best option is to run for U.S. Senator in 2004, when Fitzgerald’s term expires.

That contest is already getting crowded. Fitzgerald defeated incumbent Democrat Carol Moseley-Braun in 1998 by 98,545 votes (50.3 percent), and Moseley-Braun, after a stint as ambassador to New Zealand in the Clinton Administration, is mulling a comeback. If she doesn’t run, black State Senator Barack Obama (D-13), from Chicago’s South Side, definitely will.

Already in the race is Gery Chico, former Chicago Board of Education president, who is Hispanic, and will have plenty of money from national Hispanic sources. Other potential candidates include Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas and wealthy investment banker Blair Hull. A May 2002 poll pegged Moseley-Braun at 31 percent in a Democratic primary, to Hynes’ 14 percent, Pappas’s 13 percent, Obama’s six percent, and Chico’s five percent. In an election face-off, Fitzgerald beat Moseley-Braun by 49-39 percent.

Quite clearly, Moseley-Braun is the best-known Democrat, and the most beatable Democrat. Republicans hope she is the nominee.

If she runs, Hynes must go negative on her, and hope to solidify the white vote behind him. That, of course, will estrange him from black voters – in 2004 and in the future. Blacks make up about 25 percent of the statewide Democratic primary vote. But if both Pappas and Hull are running, the white vote will be split, so Hynes would need two-thirds of the white vote. Chico will get most of the Hispanic vote, and some of the white vote. Moseley-Braun would certainly get some of the white vote (especially liberals and women) and, if she didn’t run, Obama would get some of the white liberal vote, and Pappas would get a hefty chunk of the white female vote.

The bottom line:  Dan Hynes’ once-unobstructed track to the pinnacle of Illinois politics hasn’t yet encountered a train wreck, but he’s definitely been switched into a side yard. He has no guarantee that he would win a 2004 Senate primary, but such a campaign, if he avoids negativity, would be a win-win proposition, enhancing his visibility, even if he lost. Burris, in 1984, ran for senator and lost the primary.

My prediction: Hynes will win big in November, but he will miraculously forego being a nag, carp and grouch thereafter…even if the state is in dire financial straits.