Big savings can come from small changes in government operations.
The state of Illinois had a fleet of more than 16,000 vehicles in 2008 and 2009, many assigned permanently to state employees on the theory that they need the vehicles to be available 24 hours a day.
But an examination of the state's fleet by Auditor General William Holland reveals that a disturbing number of those vehicles were used just for commuting.
Can the state afford providing that perk to employees when it's buried in debt? No.
That's why some legislators are pressing for policy changes.
Their argument is simple: the state doesn't need such a large fleet because paying mileage would be cheaper in many cases than buying, maintaining and fueling vehicles. The state spent $121 million in fiscal 2010 for those purposes, and the auditor general found that some vehicles were not used enough to be cost effective.
State Rep. Jack Franks, a Woodstock Democrat, said the report convinced him that "the state needs to tighten its belt significantly and sell these under-utilized vehicles."
Times are hard in Illinois, both for citizens struggling to get by and state officials trying to maintain services on a tight budget.
That should be an incentive for state managers to rethink how tax dollars are spent and redirect savings that result to more useful purposes. The auditor general's report provides a good example of how to re-engineer state programs to save money in a way that has little, if any, impact on state programs.