The Pantagraph

Illinois broke; lawmakers must step up, fix it

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The website address says it all: IllinoisIsBroke.com.

That is the name chosen by a coalition of businesses, civic groups and social service agencies pushing for budget reform in the state.

The group is spearheaded by the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, which has been sounding the alarm about Illinois’ financial condition for at least four years.

In particular, the group is pushing for pension reform — noting that state employee retirement benefits are the primary driver behind Illinois’ runaway debt. Of $150 billion in state debt, $130 billion can be attributed to unfunded pension liabilities, pension borrowing and retiree health care programs.

Reforms passed earlier this year — affecting only future employees — didn’t go far enough.

In addition to the pension issue, spending is out of whack, with the state spending about $45 billion a year while only taking in — at best — $30 billion in revenue.

Illinois is not only broke financially; the system is broken, too. How else do you explain that — despite the state’s desperate financial situation — lawmakers are not in Springfield working on a solution?

Commercial Club Vice Chairman W. James Farrell told The Pantagraph Editorial Board he is starting to feel like Chicken Little: “I do really believe that the sky is starting to fall.”

But in the old children’s fable, the sky isn’t really falling.

In Illinois, it is falling — along with the state’s bond rating and hopes for a solution.

That’s why Illinois residents need to speak up and put more pressure on elected officials to address the problem head on and not hide behind their party leadership, whine that they can’t do anything as the minority party or bide their time until the next election.

The priority given to politics over people is appalling. People are losing their jobs. People are losing their businesses. People are losing needed services from agencies that aren’t being paid by the state.

“Nobody disagrees with the numbers … yet the conversation is never about what’s the right thing to do,” said Eden Martin, president of the Civic Committee. Instead, he said, it’s always about politics — who would get hurt, who would be helped politically.

Go to the Illinois Is Broke website and see the figures for yourself.

Then contact your elected officials and ask them — specifically — do they support increasing the age at which state employees can retire with full benefits, lowering the cost of living adjustment from 3 percent to 2 percent and applying reforms to current employees, not just future hires.