Posted Online: Oct. 23, 2011, 5:00 am

Editorial: Deadbeat? Say, no more

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The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus

When Illinois lawmakers get back to work next week, Gov. Pat Quinn has a plan he says would help pay the mountain of overdue bills owed by the state.

But the idea of borrowing money to pay past due bills is neither a new one nor a good one. In fact, it's a terrible one. Why borrow $8.75 billion more, as the governor proposed back in February, when we already cannot afford to pay back what we owe? It makes little difference who's holding the IOUs; the numbers don't add up.

As the series Deadbeat Illinois ends today, lawmakers are packing for the veto session which begins Tuesday. The timing of the series, produced in cooperation with the Associated Press and member newspapers like this one, is no accident. It is aimed at drawing the public's attention to a problem that has been too long ignored.

A snapshot of the state's overdue bills taken on Sept. 8 showed the state had $17.3 million in unpaid bills. That alone should galvanize our leaders into action. But we fear that instead of grappling for solutions, lawmakers will either ignore the problem or take the easy way out offered by the governor and borrow even more.

Just about everyone everywhere thinks it's a terrible idea to pay routine government costs with borrowed cash. Taxpayers should be seeing red as they watch millions of dollars wasted in interest alone to comply with the Prompt Payment.

It probably surprised no one who read the series that the state is even late on paying the interest charged on late payments. Thank goodness interest charges apply only toprivate business and not-for-profits; if the state were forced to pay it to governments and schools, look out!

Of course, the overdue bills aren't the only problem. When the governor first announced his borrowing plan, Kent Redfield, professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Illinois-Springfield, warned that Illinois' unfunded pension liability seriously compounds our financial woes. Indeed, much of the whopping income tax hike passed in January is going to do just that, not to pay our overdue bills, as originally promised.

"We're still not going to be able to get out of this without a train wreck," he said in February. Certainly we won't if lawmakers continue to refuse to get off a deadly financial track.

And yet the veto session is likely to be dominated by sexier issues like gambling expansion, Smart Grid technology and the associated electric utility rate changes. What of the state's financial mess? Silence from everywhere except the governor's bad idea.

We've long suggested that to cope with the mountain of debt and decades of fiscal mismanagement, a combination of revenue increases, deep budget cuts and serious pension reform is required. Lawmakers voted for the tax hike, but leadership in the other two areas has fallen far short of what is required.

Lawmakers and their leaders will continue to abdicate their responsibility so long as we let them. Don't! Take action.

Tell those who want to serve you that you expect -- no, demand -- more for the week's pay you surrendered to the state when lawmakers hiked income taxes. Tell them you are not satisfied with Illinois' national reputation as a deadbeat or with a state bill-paying gimmick that puts hardworking Illinoisans out of business, robs some of the neediest Illinoisans of services they need or forces cash-strapped schools to make deep cuts in education because the state won't deliver in a prompt manner the tax dollars it collects for education.

You have ammunition.

With the state's legislative remap, incumbents and opponents already are campaigning for next November when every seat in the Illinois General Assembly is up.

Join us in asking the hard questions about how to right the state's financial ship and support only those candidates who are serious about getting it done.

Tell your neighbors to do so, too. We intend to hold the candidates' feet to the fire on this issue and we urge you to do so, too.

Only when there are consequences will Springfield heed the public's call for action.