A family-style view of the Illinois budget crisis

Friday, September 17, 2010

SPRINGFIELD -- What if the Illinois budget mess was a family financial crisis? How would the proposed solutions by the two main candidates for governor compare?

Imagine a family with annual expenses of $26,000, mirroring Illinois' general funds budget of $26 billion. (The state actually spends more, but the rest is mostly federal money that has no impact on Illinois' record-high deficit.)

The family's income would amount to about $20,000, leaving them $6,000 short of being able to pay for food, the mortgage, medical care and all the other necessities. In addition, the family would have bill collectors banging on the door to demand $6,000 for bills from last year.

Under this scenario, Republican Bill Brady's budget plan would have the family cut spending by $2,600, and invest $1,000 (that's the imaginary version of Brady's tax cuts) in hope that the investments will produce new money down the road. That leaves the family $4,400 short of being able to pay this year's bills.

The family should also find a cheaper doctor (translation: Medicaid reforms), Brady says. That wouldn't save much right away, but it could add up to serious money over the years.

As for that $6,000 in old bills, Brady promises to come up with a way of paying them off over the next couple of years, but he hasn't produced anything yet.

Democrat Pat Quinn's plan amounts to cutting expenses by $1,400 and getting a second job (the imaginary version of his tax increase) to bring in about $3,000. That reduces the family's $6,000 gap to just $1,600, and maybe that could be handled by dipping into the children's college fund or taking out a home-equity loan (in other words, using money in special-purpose funds and borrowing money).

Quinn says the family will just have to pay off the oldest claims in that $6,000 stack of bills and let new ones pile up -- pay the old electricity bill, for instance, but ignore the latest credit card bill.

The family's financial situation won't be much different than before, but maybe ComEd won't shut off the electricity.