Drunk Illinois: The budget

I’m writing this column on Monday morning without the benefit of knowing what our exalted legislature will do in Springfield, but alas I have a deadline to make to keep the editor of this paper happy. So here goes.

On Sunday the Illinois House passed spending and revenue bills and that go to the Senate today. Governor Rauner has indicated he will veto it, but the legislation was passed by the super majority needed to override a veto if all vote the same in a veto session. The legislation does have some spending cuts, but not many. In essence it is a revenue generating bill that will increase the state personal income tax from 3.75% to 4.95%, That is a 32% increase to the Illinois taxpayer. The corporate rate will increase from 5.25% to 7.0%. A federal judge just last week ordered Illinois to make millions of dollars in payments on its Medicaid bills. I sat in a courtroom in Benton last week while the State’s Attorney there was seeking to sue the State of Illinois for payment of funds owed the County, because Franklin County is in deep financial distress due to the State of Illinois  not making payments. Illinois is in financial chaos.

Our State House Representative Bill Mitchell voted for the legislation on Sunday. I understand why he voted that way. Without a budget, even a bad one, Illinois’s credit rating will go in the toilet and we could be in even more financial difficulty. I understand, but respectfully disagree. Let’s be blunt, the only winners in Illinois debacle are our neighboring states. Those states are getting the new jobs as more and more people simply leave the State of Illinois.

In 2011 Illinois increased its personal income tax to 5% with the clearly stated assurance that the increase would go to pay off the State debt. It didn’t happen. Programs increased and the unpaid backlog of bills in Illinois is rapidly approaching 15 billion dollars. That legislation had a sunset on it and the tax increase expired a couple of years ago. The bill passed by the House on Sunday does not have an ending date. The tax increase as written is permanent increase on Illinois taxpayers. Illinois’s pain will be Indiana’s gain. 

I empathize with Bill Mitchell’s dilemma. Do nothing and Illinois is screwed. Pass the bill and maybe something better will occur down the road when people finally realize the problem. I have seen too many alcoholics and addicts to believe that it will get better until the cure is accepted and applied. 

Illinois is alcoholic, a drunk wanting a drink with the attitude we will deal with problems tomorrow. In 2011, Illinois actually set itself up for a cure of its financial problems, but Illinois is a drunk. We got the money and we spent it on new toys and whistles, not paying down the debt. Illinois went to the bar, instead of going to the bank to pay its bills. Now we want to give a permanent tax increase to keep the booze flowing. 

Yes, the current legislation may help Illinois’s credit rating and fund needed programs. Yes, it will keep the feds at bay for a while.

But make no mistake, Illinois is still a drunk. We are going to take the cash and head for the nearest bar to spend our new largess. We will feel good for a day or two, then comes the hangover. Until Illinois is ready to acknowledge it is drunk on taxpayer dollars and take the cure (responsible spending and taxation) Illinois will continue to be drunk.

Our legislature needs to fess up and take the cure for the good of this great state, but I fear that is wishful thinking.

More In Opinion