The Journal-Standard

OUR VIEW: Legislators need to get serious

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Freeport, Ill. — There is simply no escaping the breadth of the budget problems that confront Illinois. This state has ventured into new and dangerous territory, with a plan to address these ills well past due. All eyes and ears need to focus on the State Legislature when it returns to Springfield for a short session in November, then gets back to work again early next year.

Here is the mountain that leading legislators, specifically House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, must climb to address the state’s financial problems.

Tuesday, state budget director David Vaught acknowledged that by the end of 2010, Illinois will have a backlog of unpaid bills totalling about $6 billion, with some of those payables more than seven months overdue. These are payments to state vendors, public schools and local governments. Things are so bad that the state is already incurring additional costs for not paying its bills. For example, when a power company serving a downstate prison threatened to cut off service earlier this year, hundreds of inmates had to be moved to other facilities, resulting in additional transit costs.

Now comes word that Illinois may be on the hook for $250 million in interest for the decision to borrow $2.2 billion from the federal government for the state’s unemployment fund. In the next few months, Illinois and other states will have to figure out how to repay the money to the feds, while also attempting to craft a plan to replenish the depleted unemployment insurance trust funds.

It’s a mess.

And, of course, the State Legislature has to do something to solve its budget deficit, which totals an estimated $13 billion, but could be more.

It’s a situation that cannot continue. When Gov. Quinn took office in February, 2008, he started the process of solving the state’s financial crisis, only to confront the reality of Madigan and Cullerton, who opposed his efforts to increase the income tax. The Legislature continued to stand in the way of addressing state budget problems this year, ending its spring session early to offer candidates more time to campaign.

Now it’s time to get down to business. Our legislators need to demonstrate leadership, or follow the leadership offered when Illinois has decided who will be its governor.