The Southern

Time to face the truth: We can’t have it both ways

Friday, October 22, 2010

Our View: Voters who believe our state can cure its budget crisis through simple, pain-free steps are living in a fantasy world. We need to elect realists on Nov. 2.

Take a look at a calendar. There are less than two weeks between today and a Nov. 2 election day that will shape statewide politics in Illinois, as well as influence national decisions and policies. The stakes are high, perhaps the highest in many generations.

We've got a message for all voters who will cast ballots for governor, U.S. senator, congressional seats, statewide offices, state senators and representatives, a state recall referendum and a smorgasbord of local offices across Illinois.

You can't have it both ways, folks. It won't be possible to sustain all services without raising taxes.

It's important to understand that with the breadth and depth of Illinois' financial troubles - a budget deficit soaring beyond $13 billion and a state pension system beyond bankruptcy - there are no easy answers. Voters can't expect a pain-free or speedy return to fiscal normalcy.

Trouble is, most voters across Illinois expect to see state services and programs properly funded and sustained. They also are opposed to tax increases. If that attitude prevails on Election Day, only the election of an accomplished alchemist - someone capable of producing gold from common metals - will save us from more irresponsible spending and borrowing to pay off our debts.

Think of it this way. Anyone with a checkbook and a job knows there are only a few realistic choices for addressing a drop in household income. You can cut spending. You can earn more money by taking a second job. You can make cuts while seeking more earnings. That's about it.

It's no different at the government level, despite what a majority of people believe statewide. There is a serious disconnect between financial reality and public perception. As the late Ann Landers would say, "It's time to wake up and smell the coffee."

Why are we making such a big deal about this? It's a reaction to both the dwindling time before we head to the polls and the disturbing findings of a recently released poll on voters' attitudes by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

As we reported Tuesday, when asked what should be done about the state's $13 billion deficit, an eye-popping 57 percent said the state has plenty of money and needs to cut waste and fraud. When presented with proposals to substantially increase state revenue, an income tax increase was the most popular option. But only 40.9 percent favored the idea, while 56.2 percent were opposed.

John Jackson, a visiting professor at the Simon institute and one of the designers of the poll, faulted candidates for failing to sufficiently explain our financial dire straits.

"People seem to want simple and easy solutions to a problem which has been growing for years and a deficit which is of such a size that no easy solutions are left," Jackson said.

Perhaps Jackson makes a valid point about candidates failing to sufficiently sound an alarm. But it's not entirely the fault of the people seeking office. Numerous reports about the financial disaster otherwise known as Illinois have been printed by this newspaper, our website and media outlets statewide. Anyone with a computer needs only to Google the words "Illinois financial crisis" for a crash-course on the pre-election basics.

There still is enough time to learn the facts, and then apply those facts to the campaign pitches coming from each candidate. Democracy isn't easy. It requires an engaged and informed citizenry. Do your homework. Be prepared when you head to the ballot box. Study the issues and make informed choices. We simply cannot afford to waste any more time digging our way out from an advancing financial collapse.

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