Peoria Journal Star

Our View: Bracing for one brutal budget

Monday, April 02, 2012

There comes a time when everybody has to take their medicine. That time is now for state government in Springfield.

The House at least put an order in at the pharmacy Thursday, approving a budget outline that reconciles legislators to cutting $2.7 billion, or 14 percent, from Medicaid and taking a swipe at virtually every other service state government provides, including education, which is looking at a 5 percent reduction along with corrections, rural services, etc.

"Painful, painful," even the plan's supporters described it. And that is absolutely the right word, though they could add, "Inevitable, inevitable."

Everybody must face facts. Illinois cannot pay its bills, which have piled up until they now top $8 billion. It struggles mightily to meet its pension obligations, with the largest unfunded liability from sea to shining sea. Its credit rating has been downgraded. It passed a hefty income tax hike and still got but halfway to mopping up its red ink. Illinois government has so boxed itself into a corner after decades of fiscal ineptitude, inattention and irresponsibility that the legislative doctors now have little choice but to act aggressively, swiftly.

Impacted constituencies will scream. The unions will declare war. Legislators and editors will be lobbied heavily. Some will fold, though the 91-16 House vote last week was an encouraging recognition of reality. That said, the proposed Medicaid cut is severe, reportedly the most in percentage terms by any state ever, and social services have taken big hits previously. Health, life and safety services cannot be immune but they should trump, say, economic development subsidies. Unfortunately, if Illinois doesn't act to save itself now, many of these services will be effectively terminal down the road.

That's what legislators must keep in mind. These treatments will hurt, but people also can be surprisingly resilient. Long-term, it's the only way a wretchedly sick Illinois can begin to feel better. Hang tough.