Election largesse in a state that's broke

Thursday, September 30, 2010

"Quinn announces $7 million to expand runways at Cahokia."

"Quinn announces $100 million capital investment in local transportation."

"Quinn announces $79 million to reduce rail and road congestion in Galesburg."

Gov. Pat Quinn also announced $28 million for work on a I-57/I- 294 interchange near Harvey, $2.5 million for building upgrades at the University of Illinois at Chicago, $11 million to rebuild an intersection in Springfield, funds to rebuild the I-55/Arsenal Road interchange near Channahon, $2.3 million for a Boeing facility in Mascoutah, $26 million for roads and sewers at a former industrial site in Peoria, $8.3 million to install decorative features and repave Roosevelt Road in Oak Park, and $82 million to install fiber- optic cables for broadband Internet.

And that's all in the past six weeks.

This does not sound like the governor of a state that's flat broke.

It does sound like a governor who's running for re-election, bringing home the bacon in a race that's hotter than a skillet. Yes, most of the money was authorized by lawmakers to address long- delayed capital needs, and -- supposedly -- is funded. But with this kind of spin, strung out in repeated announcements weeks before an election, it comes across not as a reminder of jobs that must be done but as preening at a time when politicians' reckless financial management has left millions of people in this state hurting.

Touting all that largesse, which primarily comes courtesy of the Illinois Jobs Now capital funding bill Quinn signed into law last year, is out of sync with the state's financial picture.

Let's review: Illinois has stiffed vendors, contractors, social agencies and schools to the tune of $4.6 billion, leaving some nonprofits begging for what they're owed to avoid shutting down and causing some landlords to threaten eviction for state offices. The state is $13 billion in the red, has unfunded pension and retiree health care debt calculated at $130 billion, and is on "negative watch" with Standard & Poor's, a major bond rating agency.

In the face of that, Quinn's announcements come across sounding like little more than crass campaign billboards. If Illinois does indeed need the income tax increase the governor wants to shore up state coffers, one might well ask -- regardless of where the money comes from -- how all these announcements make the case for it. The average state creditor, seeing Quinn pat himself on the back for the capital improvements, might well question why there isn't money for him to get paid.

The projects create jobs and in some cases bring in federal matching dollars. But the governor would be wise to take a more sober approach and tone down the "brought to you by Governor Quinn" rhetoric.