The Pantagraph

Even with cuts, Illinois budget in awful shape

Monday, August 09, 2010

Gov. Pat Quinn has been dealt a tough hand. Not only did he enter the governor’s office unexpectedly, without much preparation, he was faced with numerous financial problems and a Legislature not inclined to help him, even though both houses are controlled by his party.

The Legislature essentially folded, handed Quinn a woefully unbalanced budget and said, “Your deal.”

To paraphrase a line from the song, “The Gambler,” the Legislature didn’t just walk away, it knew when to run.

If Quinn played his cards right, it was an excellent opportunity for him to demonstrate leadership. So far, we haven’t seen it.

The latest round of cuts “announced” by Quinn still leave the state mired in red ink.

We put “announced” in quotes because, while Quinn has been jetting around the state to sign various bills, his budget cuts were quietly slipped onto a state website.

It’s not even clear these “cuts” will fully materialize.

Some of the savings are supposed to be achieved through “efficiencies … and programmatic changes.”

What those changes will be, no one seems to know or want to say.

Quinn is keeping those cards close to his vest and might be bluffing.

But even if the latest cuts are carried out to the penny, the gap between revenue and expenses will be about $6 billion. And that doesn’t even count the $6 billion in unpaid bills from last year.

The National Conference of State Legislatures in its preliminary report on state budgets, said this about Illinois in its summary of state fiscal situations:
“For a multitude of reasons, both financial as well as political, the fiscal situation is tenuous at best. So much so, that Moody’s recently downgraded the state’s debt rating.”

That decreased rating is particularly relevant because it means it will cost more for Illinois to borrow money and borrowing money is part of Quinn’s plan for the state.

He is counting on approval of a $3.7 billion pension obligation bond sale.

We need to see more players at the table and more solutions offered than just throwing more money in the pot.

The players need to be from both parties.

There are too many jokers in the deck and too many players who think they are king.

Illinois’ house of cards is going to come tumbling down unless both sides quit worrying so much about the political card game — the Nov. 2 election — and start worrying about the state and its residents.