DECATUR — Spending decisions, not revenue are at the heart of the state of Illinois’ economic woes, Illinois Policy Institute speakers said Tuesday.
At Richland Community College, the nonpartisan group held a legislative and policy update breakfast hosted by Richland along with the Greater Decatur Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Corporation of Decatur and Macon County.
“This state has so much potential,” said Kristina Rasmussen, the organization’s executive vice president. “All of it costs money, and the state doesn’t seem to have it.”
The problem isn’t with how much revenue the state generates, said Scott Reeder, the group’s journalist in residence.
“Illinois has a spending problem, not a revenue problem,” Reeder said. “It’s spending faster than it takes in.”
Reeder said fundamental reforms are needed. The state needs to be transparent and accountable to the people who own the government, Reeder said.
Pension obligations are at the heart of the problem, Reeder said. Its pension debt keeps growing by $17 million a day, which Reeder said doesn’t need to happen. The state will increase its pension debt by approximately $300 million while lawmakers are on spring break, Reeder said.
While money is available to be spent on education, more is being dedicated to pensions rather than classrooms, said Josh Dwyer, director of education reform.
“It’s a good time to reflect on what we’re getting for our education investment,” Dwyer said. “Right now, we’re not getting much. We need to fundamentally rethink how we fund education and what we get out of it.”
Only three teachers throughout the state have been fired for underperformance in 18 years, Dwyer said. Schools need more incentives to perform better, and Dwyer believes a voucher system would be part of a solution that works.
As the pension problem increases, education is being crowded out as not enough money is available to go around, said Jonathan Ingram, director of health policy and pension reform.
The state also does not need to enter into a voluntary expansion of its Medicaid program and encourage more people to become part of it, Ingram said. The state has no capacity to pay for it.
State lawmakers receive a lot of resistance from public employee unions that believe the state generating more money is the solution to its problems, Ingram said.
Reeder said government employees want to find ways to increase taxes and have more money available to spend on programs. If less is available to be spent on programs, Reeder said the fear is fewer employees would be needed.