SPRINGFIELD – She came to Illinois touted as a "superstar," ready to provide a roadmap to fix the state's budget mess using her high-profile experience working for other Republican governors.
On Friday, however, Donna Arduin's contract as Gov. Bruce Rauner's budget guru expires while the state budget remains unfinished and mired in a divisive political fight.
Despite the lack of a spending plan two months into the state's fiscal year, Rauner's office is praising the controversial adviser as she heads back home to her job as a GOP consultant-for-hire.
"In a state with a horrific economic and fiscal record over the last dozen years, Donna Arduin is playing a major role in attempting to change the mindset in Illinois from one of 'kicking the can down the road' to solving the state’s economic and fiscal problems for the long term," Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said.
Although Illinois is budgetless, court orders and various measures approved by the General Assembly and the governor have put the state on course to spend as much as $5 billion more than what is expected in revenue this fiscal year.
Arduin's slice of that pie amounts to an estimated $165,000 for nearly eight months of work.
Rauner's hiring of Arduin came as the governor took over a state that had been run solely by Democrats for 12 years. Before heading to Illinois, she helped GOP governors in New York, California, Florida and Michigan.
The amount of her initial contract – $30,000 per month – rankled some Democratic lawmakers, who held hearings designed to shine a spotlight on what they said was the governor's practice of paying out high salaries to his top aides while he argued that rank-and-file state workers were getting big salaries and excessive benefits.
Rauner defended Arduin’s salary, saying she was “the smartest state government budget person in America.”
Arduin also stirred controversy as one of a cadre of Rauner appointees who weren't actually being paid out of the governor's office budget.
Arduin's contract, later reduced to $15,000 per month, was with the Illinois Department of Revenue, leading to catcalls from Democrats that Rauner was "off-shoring" his hires.
But Kelly said Arduin worked across the administration to help get the first Republican governor's staff in 12 years on track.
"Given her background as an economist, she has also worked closely with the Department of Revenue and its economists on revenue policy and evaluating the state’s revenue performance. She has also worked with agencies to help them navigate the current budget impasse and troubleshoot any concerns, so they can best serve the people of Illinois," Kelly said.
Kelly said Arduin had a direct hand in crafting the governor's budget proposal, which Democrats ignored and said was $2.2 billion out of balance because it relied on savings from an unconstitutional change in pension law.
State Rep. Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat who chairs a House Appropriations Committee, said he met with Arduin once and found the two agreed on little.
"If you look at what she did in other states, she recommended draconian cuts, balancing the budget by cutting higher education and social services. It's not a surprise that she tried to do that here. It's been pretty consistent," Harris said.
Arduin also helped train budget office employees and helped draft budget reforms, which also have been heavily criticized by Democrats because they will reduce state aid to the elderly, poor and disabled.
"In all, she has brought a lifetime of invaluable budgeting experience to Illinois to help grow the economy and make us the most competitive state in the country," Kelly said.