Like petulant children, millions of Illinois citizens voting Nov. 2
will refuse to believe that the state can no longer afford their wants
Restraint is not in their vocabulary.
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.
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.
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. Illinoisisbroke.com, 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 Quinn
has 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
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.
This column also appeared in the Chicago Tribune