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The Financial Consultant Who Ruins State Budgets

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By Jay Hutchison Explore the Issues Privatization State & Local Budgets
The Financial Consultant Who Ruins State Budgets
2003 photo by: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

While governors like Illinois’ former chief executive, Bruce Rauner, deserve blame for attacking public service workers and the services they provide, they didn’t come up with their misguided budget cuts all by themselves. They had advice from someone behind the scenes.

In many recent cases, that someone has been Donna Arduin, a financial consultant and an “budget-slashing expert,” who, according to Talking Points Memo, takes an ideological hatchet to state budgets, resulting in underfunded public services and plenty of pain to the communities that need those services the most and the workers that provide them.

She did it in Illinois, where the Janus v. AFSCME case originated. She did it in Florida, in California, in New York and in Kansas. And she’s doing it now in Alaska, where draconian budget cuts are poised to devastate public services.

In 2015, while working with Arduin, Rauner, who lost his reelection bid in 2018, stopped payments to industries that provided health care to more than 360,000 workers across the state. This resulted in hundreds of families being unable to access health care they’d earned.

The Rauner administration denied halting health care payments to put pressure on the General Assembly to adopt his so-called “turnaround agenda,” which consisted of pro-business and anti-labor initiatives. After serving eight months as Rauner’s budget adviser, Arduin left for other pastures, though not before she collected approximately $165,000 despite failing to come up with a suitable budget, according to Crain’s Chicago Business.

Arduin is one of the three acting partners at Arduin, Laffer & Moore Econometrics. Her partner, Arthur Laffer, known for his theories of trickle-down economics, helped Kansas Gov. Brownback sign the largest tax cuts in the state’s history for the wealthiest Kansans, proving to be a disastrous experiment that the Kansas Legislature eventually overturned. Under the Brownback plan, those who used to make less than $25,000 a year had to pay more in taxes, while those who made more than $250,000 a year had to pay less.

After Illinois, Arduin spent time as a budget consultant for several governors, including California’s Arnold Schwarzenegger, Florida’s Jeb Bush, New York’s George Pataki, and more recently, for Alaska’s Mike Dunleavy.

Arduin and Dunleavy attempted to solve Alaska's $1.6 billion budget deficit by enacting deep cuts to public services, education and health care – which led to that state’s current fiscal crisis.

Alaska’s higher education system has been targeted for some of the harshest cuts, with the University of Alaska system’s funding slashed by a whopping 41%. Dunleavy has defunded scholarships so severely that thousands of students who receive state scholarships to attend college may lose that aid, forcing them to leave school.

The Democratic leader in the Alaska Senate, Tom Begich, was quoted in Governing magazine as saying this about Arduin: “She seems to have virtually no understanding of the state. She never once addressed the impact the cuts would have at the local level.”

Arduin once told the alumni magazine of her alma mater, Duke University, that she’s a libertarian who “joined government to shrink it.”

Cutting government programs to fulfill some ideological tenet might make the Arduins of the world feel happy, but these ideologically driven cuts hurt communities, harm working people and increase the suffering of the most vulnerable amongst us.

That’s not an agenda AFSCME members support. That’s not an agenda the nation can afford, not in this time of alarming income inequality, not in this rigged economy where the wealthy and corporations profit handsomely at the expense of the rest of us.