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Our View: Illinois’ sham of a budget

Published: Friday, June 6, 2014 9:09 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, June 6, 2014 9:16 p.m. CDT

If you live in Illinois long enough, you get used to being lied to by the state’s political leaders.

For the umpteenth year and counting, Democrats in the General Assembly last month approved a sham of a budget that relies on many of the same gimmicks that have all but bankrupted Illinois.

The 12-month spending document, passed with no Republican support, doesn’t reduce the state’s record spending. It further relies on delaying paying the state’s bills. It borrows money from special funds to pay for operational expenses. And it counts on inflated future revenue projections that may never materialize.

The budget also doesn’t account for the declining revenue from the scheduled Jan. 1 rollback of the 67 percent “temporary” tax hike passed by Democratic lawmakers in January 2011.

In his budget address, Gov. Pat Quinn called on lawmakers to make that “temporary” income tax increase permanent. But facing an election in November, many lawmakers didn’t have the stomach to renege on their 2011 promise that the tax increase would be rolled back beginning in 2015.

What all this means is that we’re likely headed for another lame-duck session after the election, when Democrats again will try to raise taxes with no accountability.

The wild card this time out is that Quinn faces a serious election challenge from Republican venture capitalist Bruce Rauner, who opposes making the tax increase permanent. But even if Rauner wins, Democrats can still railroad through a tax hike with no Republican support.

In the meantime, state government will continue spending more than it can afford as our elected officials further push back making the tough decisions on spending cuts that needed to be made years ago. Everyone – except our lawmakers – seems to grasp the concept that you only spend what you bring in.

Their inaction causes unnecessary stress and fear at every entity that receives state funding, from school districts to nonprofit social service agencies to hospitals. How are they supposed to complete their respective missions, and provide vital services to our communities, when the state can’t give them straight answers about the funding they can expect?

The scary thing is, as bad as Illinois is financially now, it still hasn’t reached rock bottom. As hard as it might be to believe, things still can get worse.

And as long as Quinn and the General Assembly continue down the tax-more-and-spend-more road, we should expect the worst.

It’s time for budgets that are fiscally responsible. When our lawmakers finally decide to take responsibility, it will mean cuts. It will mean pain.

There is no easy solution. The kicking-the-can-down-the-road approach lawmakers have taken for years guarantees that.

But it’s time to be proactive, instead of reactive, when it comes to the state’s finances.

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