Even broke, the state keeps wasting money

2013-02-10T05:00:00Z Even broke, the state keeps wasting moneyBy the H&R Editorial Staff Herald-Review.com
February 10, 2013 5:00 am  • 

The State of the State message is usually upbeat, a pep talk about what needs to be done.

And 2014 is an election year, so it’s no surprise that Gov. Pat Quinn spent a lot of his speech bragging about his resumé and the rest of it urging the legislature to adopt his ideas. So, no one should have expected Quinn to detail the state’s woes. Instead, his message Wednesday sounded more like a campaign speech and virtually ignored the python in the room.

Quinn asked legislators to help him enact new gun laws, boost the minimum wage and open up Illinois’ election laws. He also asked for support on a recent House bill that would fund infrastructure projects but also waste money on unneeded and unnecessary pork barrel projects.

But Quinn spent only a little bit of time addressing the state’s biggest problems: the unfunded pension obligation and backlog of unpaid bills. Quinn did throw his support behind Senate Bill 1, a two-part proposal by Senate President John Cullerton.

Cullerton’s bill would reduce pension benefits, and if that was ruled unconstitutional, then give state employees the choice between reduced cost-of-living increases and health insurance. Cullerton has said his proposal would make the state’s six pension systems solvent by 2043 and reduce the unfunded pension obligation by between $66 billion and $88 billion.

The Cullerton proposal may not be the final answer, but it is a start.

But Quinn’s speech was mostly happy talk in a state that is in dreadful financial shape. Even if the General Assembly manages to address the unfunded pension mess, the budget could still contain more spending than the state brings in. The state’s bond ratings have been reduced to the point where a $500 million bond issue was recently delayed.

And it’s not clear that Democrats in the General Assembly, or Quinn, understand the seriousness of the state’s financial problems. Quinn talked about those issues briefly Wednesday, then signed a bill Thursday that includes some wasteful spending.

The Senate approved and Quinn signed a bill that appropriates $2.1 billion to pay for a variety of projects.

Some of the funds were appropriated in last year’s budget and never spent. Some of the funds are for much-needed construction projects that will add jobs, and others are to hire front-line workers at the Department of Children and Family Services.

So some of the spending is necessary and legitimate. And some of it isn’t.

Tucked inside the bill are funds for a basketball hall of fame in Danville, new positions for middle managers in state agencies, a new children’s museum in Springfield, a new museum in Southern Illinois dedicated to the region’s fluorspar miners, renovation of a baseball field, a new VFW hall and the installation of bike racks.

The so-called “sweeteners” were added to attract votes to the bill. In other words, legislators can’t see the value of road construction and additional child abuse investigators unless they get something for themselves.

The state is basically broke. Broke states shouldn’t waste money on halls of fame, museums, baseball fields or bicycle racks.

Spending money the state doesn’t have on projects it doesn’t need will not return Illinois to a solid financial base.

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(1) Comments

  1. harsh8
    Report Abuse
    harsh8 - February 12, 2013 5:04 am
    The H&R editorial staff continues to mislead the public about the state of the state of Illinois.
    Their recent statement (February 2013) that "The state is basically broke," connotes a poverty stricken state without resources. Nothing could be further from the truth.
    It turns out that, among all of the states, Illinois is ranked 5th in gross domestic product (according to 2011 statistics).
    The dirty little secret about Illinois is that it is one of the richer states of the nation, but it is not taxing those who are accumulating wealth at a high enough rate to pay for the cost of government.
    Instead, perversely, powerful lobbyists like the Civic Committee of the Commerce Club of Chicago, the Chamber of Commerce, the Manufacturers' Association and others have persuaded the General Assembly to shrink the state government by depriving government employees of benefits and by shifting tax burdens on to the middle class and the poor through highly regressive taxes like the sales tax.
    The state is not broke (basically, or in any other way); It simply is not sufficiently taxing those who have been making all of the money at a high enough rate to sustain a government that meets the needs of all of its citizens.
    The fundamental economic problem in Illinois is the growing gap between income and wealth ownership levels of the very wealthy and the rest of us.
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