Believe it! Illinois is flat-out broke

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Like petulant children, millions of Illinois citizens voting Nov. 2 will refuse to believe that the state can no longer afford their wants and needs.

Restraint is not in their vocabulary.

The household — the family of Illinois — is more than a half year behind on paying its bills. Doctors and others that Illinoisans need are warning that they can't go on like this; look for someone else to work for free. No more groceries on the tab. They're borrowing money just to pay for everyday needs. The interest they're paying is eating them alive, forcing them to cut out not just the extras, but essentials.

This analogy is too simplified, too patronizing? Then tell me how you get to voters who figure that reinstalling the same people that got us into this mess will somehow get us out of this mess.

If you talk about the dismal state of Illinois finances and its causes, you get fed the denier's latest script: It's just because of the recession. When the economy improves, we'll snap out of it.

Too bad the facts don't fit that explanation. Illinois has been outspending its income for years, well before the recession started. The Illinois Policy Institute has put the numbers together: In the past decade, state spending has increased 26 percent, after inflation. That was thanks to a thriving economy, not an income tax increase.

So, during the time that the state should have been storing up some of this money for the famine, it increased spending even more. Even though the state's income — money from taxpaying families and business — had reached a record high in 2008 — $29.7 billion — it still had to borrow billions to pay its bills. Because of its excessive borrowing, Illinois now has one of the nation's worst credit ratings.

The amount we owe is staggering. We keep hearing about the $80 billion that is owed to the public employees' pension funds, but that could be $130 billion or more, depending on how you count what is owed to retired public workers and how long they'll live., a Web site initiated by the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, calculates the state's total debt at $160 billion, or $25,000 per household.

From our politicians, no convincing plan for extracting us from this swamp has emerged. Gov. Pat Quinnhas hatched so many different ideas, all involving big tax increases, it's hard to know where he stands. His Republican opponent, state Sen. Bill Brady, coyly says he'll unveil his plan after the election. I guess he's afraid — with good reason — that no one wants to hear the unvarnished, hurtful truth. Not that it matters; House Speaker Michael Madigan will come up with his post-election budget that will satisfy his organized labor benefactors, and his captured party members will nod like bobbleheads.

But that hasn't stopped saner heads from coming up with their own proposals, like the Illinois Policy Institute, the Civic Committee, the Civic Federation, ChangeIllinois, Illinois Campaign for Political Reform and the Illinois Reform Commission, among others. These are intelligent people with intelligent ideas who understand that solving the state's problems will take sacrifice. It may only be symbolic, but getting rid of free bus and train rides for seniors would signal that this government of ours finally is getting the idea. But that will never happen as long as we, the electors, approach our government as if we were kids, demanding more, while giving up nothing.