The following is an Editorial Commentary.
UNACCEPTABLE – the singular word that perfectly describes and sums up the pain, dysfunction and instability politicians in Springfield have inflicted on Illinoisans as a result of their failure to provide a permanent balanced state budget for the past two years, with almost 24 days until the next fiscal year begins.
As the state’s credit ratings continue to be downgraded over and over again, as residents have emigrated from the state for greener pastures, as community colleges and universities continue to be gutted, as businesses have closed down for good and as social service agencies turn away the state’s most vulnerable residents, elected officials continue to fail at doing the job they were elected to do: truly represent their constituents and show unwavering political courage to make the necessary, difficult and painful decisions.
The “Blame Game” has been determined on whether a (D) or an (R) follows their name. Republican Governor Bruce Rauner is to blame, say the Democrats. It’s Democratic Speaker of the House Michael Madigan’s and Senate President John Cullerton’s fault, say the Republicans. The finger pointing has dragged on long enough – far too long, for that matter. It’s because of decades of politicians who made terrible financial decisions based on what would get them re-elected into office, not based on fiscal prudence.
Illinois’ fiscal problems have created a statewide crisis – except in the Illinois State Capitol, as if the dome deflects the misery that impacts the rest of the state, but it can no longer shield elected officials from accepting the blame each member of the General Assembly and the governor bears for the heinous state of the state.
The stack of the state’s unpaid bills tops $14 billion. Despite not having a budget, the 2015-16 fiscal year ended last June with a budget deficit of $9.6 billion. All five of the state-funded pension systems have a $130 billion shortfall. Each day that passes leads to an even more severe picture in the state’s finances.
Every potential plan for progress has been blemished by partisan politics. While the Senate passed a budget on May 23, which included $5.4 billion in tax hikes, with no support from Republicans, Rauner will still veto a Democrat-only measure, even if it somehow passes through the House. A bipartisan compromise is needed for continued perseverance of Illinois. Not with more taxes, but with more spending cuts.
The lack of a budget may not have directly inconvenienced most residents, so it unfortunately has been rather easy to ignore. What is hard to ignore is what is considered “your share” of the state’s financial problems:
- Based on the $14 billion in unpaid bills and a state population of 12.8 million, your share on this alone is $1,094.
- Based on the $130 billion pension shortfall, your share on this alone is $10,156.
- Based on the $9.6 billion 2015-16 fiscal year (sans a budget) loss, your share on this alone is $750.
- Based on all three, your share of the state’s fiscal problems is roughly $12,000.
This is going to have to be paid somehow, but this cannot be resolved with more taxation. It’s time that there be some sacrifices in regards to budgeting and line-item expenses. Since most politicians have pretty much abdicated their civic duty over the past two years, there will have to be deeper spending cuts and tax hikes will end up higher for everyone.
Doesn’t this make you mad?
Good. Get informed on the issues and encourage others to do the same. There’s a reason why millions of dollars are shelled out on relentless and nasty campaign ads – they unfortunately work, but there should be no reason for attack ads. Both Democrat and Republican legislators are to blame for the fiscal mess Illinois is in. These ads do absolutely nothing except sway the voter based on misinformation or deter people from ever voting. Elections should NEVER be determined on who can throw away the most money toward attack ads.
Next, get involved. Pick up your phone. Open up your email program. Show up at your legislator’s regional offices. Take the time to call and email your state legislators and the Governor. Tell them how they have made it an embarrassment to even say they’re a resident of the state of Illinois. Express your anger on the significant issues that desperately need attention: property tax relief, school funding reform, ending the hostility toward businesses, ending the overspending of tax revenue, etc.
Newspaper editorial boards declared “ENOUGH” a year ago – even though one day afterward, a six-month stopgap funding bill was passed – but it was still not a fiscal budget. That stopgap didn’t provide any stability. That is simply not good enough.
It’s beyond time to demand that all Springfield politicians do what is right – making the budget priority one. Refusing to do so will continue to cement their legacy with one word that describes the sorry state of affairs in Illinois: UNACCEPTABLE.
As someone who previously ran for state representative last fall and expressed my intent to run for state senator, I can certainly attest to the fact that Illinoisans are beyond fed up, sick and tired of the status quo mantra of state legislative politics and something desperately needs to be done about it. Almost two-thirds of all legislative races in 2016 went uncontested. That needs to end in 2018. Run for office. Volunteer your time for a candidate. Vote out all incumbents and career politicians. It’s time for new blood to lift Illinois out of the mess we’re in and stop being fiscally insolvent as compared to other states like New York, Pennsylvania and California.
Jake Leonard, a broadcast media and journalism veteran, is the editor-in-chief of Heartland Newsfeed. Leonard is also GM and program director of Heartland Newsfeed Radio Network, wrestling editor and contributing writer for Ambush Sports, a contributing writer for My Sports Vote and Midwest Sports Network, and a former contributor to Bleacher Report and Overtime Heroics. He resides at home in Nokomis, Ill. with his dog Buster.