Now that the primary election is over, we can turn our attention to another issue: The state of Illinois is broke.
How broke? Try visiting a Web site called illinoisis broke.com. This site is linked to the Civic Federation, a nonpartisan organization run by Oak Parker Lawrence Msall. There you will learn that, by July, Illinois will owe its creditors $130 billion – yes, billion. That’s because this year, like last year and the year before, Illinois is spending roughly $14 billion that it doesn’t have. Put another way, Illinois spends about $3 for every $2 it takes in.
Impossible. It says right there in the Illinois Constitution that our legislators must pass a balanced budget. Our constitution says, “Appropriations for a fiscal year shall not exceed funds estimated by the General Assembly to be available during that year.” Harry Truman would have said that “available” funds means money the state is really going to take in, right? Not to crafty Illinois politicians. Some sharpies in Springfield decided long ago that “available” funds include money the state borrows. But who would be stupid enough to lend money to a state that doesn’t pay its bills?
I know, state-controlled pension funds that have – or had – lots of cash set aside to pay the pension and health care costs of retired teachers and state workers. The state takes its money and leaves an IOU. And if a little borrowing from the pensions is a good thing, then a lot of borrowing is better, right? That’s why 10 years ago, the state had borrowed $14 billion from state pensioners, but today it owes $89 billion. This means that retired teachers, including some in Oak Park, are now getting dunning letters from their doctors because the state pension health fund is not paying its bills.
But raiding the state pension funds is not enough to satisfy the spending habits of our legislators. The state is now in the process of driving out of business nonprofits, which were silly enough to have contracted with the state to provide services to the poor and then expected to be paid. That’s why drug-counseling centers are shutting their doors. By not paying its bills for 60, 90 or 120 days, the state is effectively balancing its budget on the backs of the nonprofits.
That’s not all. We have to pay taxes, but some of us end up overpaying and are entitled to a tax refund at year’s end. The state is stalling on paying returns. Congratulations. By overpaying your taxes, you have unwittingly become a lender of last resort to the state of Illinois. All this means that, according to illinoisisbroke.com, Illinois is now rated among the bottom-five states for creditworthiness. And it has one of the largest deficits in the nation.
What, dear friends, is the response of our leaders in Springfield? Are they cutting costs or raising taxes to balance the budget? Is Illinois ready for reform? Nah. The governor, the Senate and the House fiddle while Illinois burns.
Jack Crowe is a third-generation Oak Parker. He cycles with the Lake and Harlem group, volunteers at Christ the King Jesuit College Prep in Austin and sometimes performs at the Village Players Performing Arts Center.