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‘Ready, shoot, aim’ sometimes works

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Illinois Budget Director John Filan was appointed in 2003 to whack back the state’s $5 billion budget shortfall, and he’s done it without raising broad-based taxes.

Instead, he shrank the number of state agencies by nearly a third, from 66 to 46, holding the number of state employees at 1970s levels. The operational cost of government has gone down, while education grants have gone up, and the state consolidated 22 data centers to five.

Filan says he understands that government isn’t as top-down as business, but he acts unilaterally, anyway.

Examples: Filan didn’t hesitate to dip into dedicated funds to pay for general services, and one court ruled that he couldn’t use money from an environmental trust fund to pay for non-environmental programs. Also, the state attorney general had to block Filan’s grab for highway toll money.

Filan’s reaction: Oops! “You’re not going to get it right every time,” he says.

So far, “ready, shoot, aim” seems to be working for him.

— Adapted from “Fiscal Finagler,” Alan Greenblatt, Governing.

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