"Illinois is broke" campaign launched ahead of election

Thursday, January 28, 2010

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Illinois is broke, according to a group of Chicago area business leaders who launched a campaign on Thursday to raise public awareness about the state's woeful fiscal condition.

R. Eden Martin, president of the nonpartisan Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, said the state is buried by a backlog of unpaid bills, and more importantly, is sinking under its enormous unfunded pension and other retirement-related liabilities.

"Yes, Illinois is broke," he said, pointing out that a cash crunch has severely delayed essential payments to schools, universities, hospitals and others.

The group's full-page newspaper ads slated to run in newspapers on Friday ahead of Tuesday's state-wide primary election say that Illinois is "virtually bankrupt" and ask voters "which candidates will be the best ones to fix this mess?"

Martin said the campaign will be a continuing effort through the general election in November, which will elect a governor and fill other state offices. He noted the Civic Committee was not promoting any candidates or political parties.

Martin added that if nothing is done to tackle Illinois' $130 billion of debt, which includes $120 billion of unfunded pension liabilities, retiree health care benefits and outstanding pension bonds, the state will be forced to cut funding for essential services or turn to massive tax increases.

"The problem is the debt is growing every day, every week, every hour and it's now enormous," Martin said.

The campaign's website, IllinoisIsBroke.com, includes a continuously updating tally of the state's mounting debt.

Wall Street rating agencies have also taken note of Illinois' fiscal troubles, giving the state the second-lowest general obligation bond rating among the states after California.