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Illinois has a spending problem

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

SPRINGFIELD – What do Dennis Rodman, Rod Blagojevich and Jesse Jackson Jr. have in common with Illinois state government?

Despite having large incomes, they’ve each found themselves teetering on the brink of insolvency.

When I was younger, celebrity bankruptcies used to puzzle me.

How is it that high-earners such as Wesley Snipes, Willie Nelson or Burt Reynolds can just go flat-out broke? The answer is simple: they spent too much.

And so it is with the state of Illinois. 

Illinois’ revenues are at the highest level in the state’s 194-year history and yet state bills are getting paid six months late, Illinois’ pension funds are in crisis and it has the worst credit rating of any state in the union.

And keep in mind, Illinois got to this point despite our General Assembly passing – and our governor signed – a “temporary” 67 percent income tax increase two-and-a-half years ago.

Every working adult in the state of Illinois is now contributing an extra week’s pay to the state’s coffers since the tax hike.  

That’s no small sacrifice. Illinoisans have cut grocery lists, canceled vacations, deferred car and appliance purchases.

And yet the state is still broke.

In fact, instead of cutting spending, state government is spending more.

In 2008, the last full fiscal year before the recession, Illinois spent $30.4 billion in base general revenue funds and in 2012, it was on track to spend $33.5 billion. 

Rather than tightening the belt, the state has pulled out the credit card.

The level of state bond debt has increased during the same period from $58.7 billion in 2008 to $71 billion. 

And if that’s not bad enough, Illinois’ official unfunded pension liability was $55.4 billion in 2008 – and the Commission for Government Forecasting and Accountability projects that liability will grow to $102.7 billion this year.

No state has ever taxed its way into prosperity. 

The legislative leaders promised that tax hike would be temporary when they pushed it through. Now they are quiet about its future.

So when I hear government union bosses say they were promised this or that, I have to sigh. Taxpayers were promised things, too.

The state has borrowed to pay for things such as $700,000 doors for the State Capitol.

Spending is public enemy No. 1 in Illinois.  

• Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and the journalist in residence at the Illinois Policy Institute.

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