We've heard it so often we should have gotten the point by now. The State of Illinois is horribly broken and they're not doing much to fix it. Yet for some reason people hold out hope that things will somehow magically return to the good old days if they just complain loudly enough.|
You barely canpick up the paper without being reminded of it. The drum beat has been getting louder as the red ink grows deeper, more people are affected and the governor and legislature wrestle with budget issues for the coming fiscal year, which starts July 1.
The state is millions in debt and months behind in paying its bills. We don't have enough prison guards and the ones we have are working too much overtime. The Department of Children and Family Services is too understaffed to carry out day-care inspections or do background checks on new hires in a timely manner. Video poker remains a distant new revenue hope because the Gaming Board doesn't have enough employees to process applications. The Department of Transportation has no money to pay its share of construction of the new Interstate 74 bridge, but it thinks it can maintain the old one.
School districts are owed thousands. Doctors, hospitals and pharmacies are seeing reimbursement for services fall to dangerously low levels. There reportedly are more empty desks than people in the Department of Natural Resources. Social servcies are under siege and there's not enough money to maintain our state parks and historic sites.
And it's going to get worse. Secretary of Transportation Ann Schneider, who met with our editorial board recently, had dire warnings about pensions. In the FY 2013 budget, requests for pension money from the road fund is $172.3 million, or 17.7 percent of the budget. But if the pension grows at the same rate as the past two years and new money in the road fund only increases by three percent a year, within five years, 30 percent of the operating budget will go -- not to road and bridge construction or repair -- but to paying for pensions.
We're not talking about isolated problems here. We're talking about the perfect storm.
Constituents from each one of these groups have, at one time or another, cried out for relief. While a few dollars may get shuffled from here to there, the bottom line is that no relief is coming. In fact, budget plans for the state's next fiscal year tell us to expect 5 percent more in cuts -- perhaps more in some areas, slightly less in others.
If you, your company, your doctor, your day-care provider, your school, etc., depend on funding from the state, you better start figuring out how you will get by without it -- or at least with less. There is no magic bullet that can help us -- even the hated income-tax increase failed to make much of a dent in the problem.
Only two things can help us dig out of this quagmire.
The first is obvious. Get expenses under control. We're talking about really fixing the problems and not, for example, just dumping school pensions off on local school districts and calling it solved. The 500 pound gorillas in the room are $83 billion in pension liabilities and Medicaid reform. Lawmakers need to stop listening to the leaders of unions that finance their elections and who think we can continue to raise taxes to preserve benefits. Maintaining the current level of benefits only will assure that there won't be benefits at all when workers retire. It's time for lawmakers to listen to the voters who actually elect them -- and who ultimately have to pay the bills.
The second is improving the business climate. You've seen the headlines – Illinois was recently ranked 48th out of 50 states as a good place to do business. That is pathetic! Reforms are needed and soon. More employees working mean more income tax and more corporate tax for the state. More products sold mean more sales tax. More goods shipped mean more motor fuel tax. Fraud and corruption must be eliminated, bad programs cut or reformed and programs that hurt the business climate reviewed and revised.
We must make Illinois a more attractive place to run a business or we run the risk not only of those income streams not growing, but continuing to erode. That will make the state's financial problems worse. Otherwise, some day soon we may all be working in Iowa.
If you want more money for day care, better oversight from DCFS, or a new bridge to Iowa, tell your state elected official that we need to make these reforms now. Even with them, it will be years until we start to see the benefits.
The legislature is scheduled to adjourn by May 31. Legislators which support serious cutbacks will be targeted by every imagineable interest group. This time calls for real political courage. If adequate action is not taken in Springfield, then you, your friends and colleagues need to make sure action is taken at the ballot box in November.
Rock island, IL Details
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