Illinois is broke. Who's gonna fix it?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Illinois is broke. Teachers are losing their jobs from Chicago to Champaign, from Will to Williamson counties.
Fewer teachers but larger classes won't help our kids learn.

Illinois is broke.

Libraries are closing. Band, art and athletics are being cut district by district.

Illinois is broke.

Home health-care workers for the disabled and the elderly aren't getting paid. How can they care for others if they can't feed their families?

State universities and hospitals aren't getting reimbursements. So they can't pay the people and companies they owe.

The list is getting longer.

There is a desperate domino effect.

And yet, down in Springfield, you can't find a lawmaker to save your soul. It's summer, you know, and poor dears, they need to get in a little golf.

If you are looking for the political will to fix our problems, forget about it. There's an election coming. Incumbents devoted to their own re-election are not stupid enough to anger an already angry electorate. Doing nothing is easier for them than doing something.

Illinois is not just broke. It's broken.

Will citizens -- voters -- finally rise up and declare a day of reckoning?

I'd like to think so. Then again, the closest we came recently was the battle for campaign finance reform right after Rod Blagojevich was arrested, indicted and impeached. What we got was better than nothing, I suppose, but the pols in Springfield did the minimum, not the maximum required.

Now there is another movement in the making -- maybe.

Its success will depend on just how furious, embarrassed and determined we can be.

But, God knows, it is worth a try if you care about the fact that right this minute, we are $130 billion in the hole when it comes to the money we do not have to pay the state's pension obligations. That's $25,000 per household in Illinois.

We are buried in debt. And not even a state income tax increase can fill that hole.

The Civic Committee of the Commercial Club has for years been telling anyone who would listen -- House Speaker Mike Madigan, Senate President John Cullerton, Governors Blagojevich and Ryan, Republicans in the minority and Mayor Daley -- that if pensions and government retiree health-care benefits are not reformed and restructured going forward, this state cannot go forward, and that deep spending cuts must accompany any tax increase.

It is a brutal but critical message.

And nothing less than the financial future of this state for our children and grandchildren are at stake.

And so they have started Illinois IsBroke.com.

It's a website, a gathering point and a place to read a crystal clear description of the challenges we face. It's truly worth a read.

IllinoisIsBroke.com is nonpartisan. But it can help anyone interested in connecting with his or her lawmakers -- Republicans or Democrats -- who need to get an earful about the mess they have created but haven't had the will to clean up.

Have you heard all of this before? Sure.

Has this newspaper -- one among many -- ranted and raved in editorial headlines reading "Spineless in Springfield: They can't do the right thing"?

You bet we have.

Have we moved the needle enough when it comes to the General Assembly facing up to the hard task at hand?

Nope.

It's easy to get worn out in this political culture. We've got a governor in prison, and another who could be on the way. Political gridlock. Financial crisis.

Same old, same old, you might say.

We deserve more.

But we're going to have to fight for it.

Give www.IllinoisIsBroke a look.