Experts at NPR forum: Fixing Illinois will take many years

Experts at NPR forum: Fixing Illinois will take many years

CHAMPAIGN — Even if Illinois' 2-year-long budget impasse is resolved before the scheduled end of the legislative session May 31, Illinoisans are in for years of fiscal pain, a panel of experts on the budget stalemate said Wednesday.

"We're going to have to raise taxes, which is very unpopular. We're going to have to cut spending, which is very unpopular," former Gov. Jim Edgar told an NPR Illinois budget forum. "And third — and this is going to be the toughest thing to solve — is that it's not going to be done overnight."

Illinois will have to stay on "a fiscal diet for several years to undo the damage," he said.

Chris Mooney, director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois, said the budget pain could go on for more than 10 years and will require "really tough fiscal discipline."

UI President Tim Killeen said it will take "multiple years" to repair the damage done to the state's financial position.

"It will be a 10-year dig or a 15-year dig, something like that," he said.

Edgar, who was governor from 1991 to 1999, said Illinois "is in the worst mess it's ever been in. Even during the (Gov. Rod) Blagojevich years, it wasn't as bad as it is now."

He said state officials "need to focus on the budget."

"The budget is crucial to the economics in the state. We have seen damage done in the last two years that has cost jobs and I think has cost much of our economic future. Those thousands of young people who are leaving Illinois to go to higher education in another state probably aren't coming back," he said. "That damage alone from an economic point of view is reason enough why we need to stop all this fighting and rhetoric once we get a budget."

Edgar refrained from predicting that a budget agreement would be reached in the closing days of the spring session, but he praised Senate President John Cullerton and Minority Leader Christine Radogno, "especially Senator Radogno because she took a lot of flack from her governor and some of her members.

"They may not be successful, but I think that's been the most encouraging thing I've seen in Springfield in the last two years. Hopefully, we might see that sometime in the House where the members might get together and say, 'Alright Speaker and Representative (Jim) Durkin, who is very close to the governor, we're going to come up with something. We've got to get moving.'"

He urged those in the audience of about 75 people to contact legislators and tell them to approve a budget.

Among the audience members were four Republican state representatives: Reggie Phillips of Charleston, Jeanne Ives of Wheaton, Margo McDermed of Mokena and Tom Morrison of Palatine.

Phillips represents some of the same parts of central Illinois that Edgar did in the mid-1970s.

The Charleston businessman said he was willing to vote for a politically unpopular tax increase "because it's not as important to me that I come back to Springfield, as is doing what's best for the entire state of Illinois."

But he also said that non-budget items, such as worker's-compensation reform, had to be part of budget negotiations.

Edgar disagreed.

"I appreciate your concern about worker's comp, but let me tell you, not having a budget for the last two years has done more damage to your hometown and my hometown than anything having to do with worker's comp," said the former governor. "Let me just say that you ought to deal with the budget."

Edgar said he appreciated the viewpoints of the four GOP lawmakers who traveled from Springfield for the forum, "but I just think it's a mistake to hold up the budget."

He acknowledged that the state budget "was out of whack when Gov. (Bruce) Rauner came in, but it's a lot more out of whack now that we haven't had a budget for two years. My suggestion is that you're not going to solve everything here at one time. The most important thing is to solve the budget."

Two of the Republican legislators said they came to offer their perspective of the budget stalemate and the state's financial condition.

"A university town has many public employees who have many strong opinions on things like salaries and benefits, health insurance, pensions, funding," Morrison said. "But my response to them is that we've overpromised. I got elected telling people that we as a state have overpromised what we can afford to pay, and now we have to make those corrections that are really hard."

McDermed said, "It's not like we don't understand what the issue is; it's that we aren't allowed to grapple with the issue. Please, please, force them to let us grapple with the issue."

The "State Budget: Past Due" forum was sponsored by NPR Illinois and the AARP of Illinois. It is the second of 11 such events in Illinois this year.

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eastsideexp wrote on May 18, 2017 at 8:05 am

The State of Illinois will get better once the Democrats finally get a spine and stand up to Mike Madigan.

As the quote at the end of the article states - they aren't even allowed to work towards a resolution.


The Emperor has no clothes - and even a "wise and wonderful" former governor can't state that.....

pattsi wrote on May 18, 2017 at 9:05 am

Not certain as to the legislative activity happening in Springfield yesterday, but none of our regional elected officials were in the audience as was the case of municipal elected officials. Two county board members were in the audience. Last observations, considering the direness of the state finances one might have anticipated a standing room only crowd representing the diversity of the community. Not the case. So the sponsors might want to reflect as to whether this is the best mechanism to explore effective ways to reach state legislators. There is total agreement that this category of funding lack for social services is irrepairably dilatory yet more of those folks attend a mental health board meeting than were in attendance last evening. Maybe there are better means to communicate with legislators than sitting in an I-Hotel room for over two hours and sending more letters?

catsrule wrote on May 18, 2017 at 10:05 am

If one could remove Speaker Madigan today, there are no elected Democrat candidates for the Speaker position who support the following Rauner agenda items: So called "right to work" legislation, elimination of prevailing wage laws and the rights of workers to collectively bargain over conditions of employment. Mr. Rauner has provided absolutely no financial analysis or proof of demonstrating these items would adequately address Illinois' budget situation. Mr. Rauner is holding the budget hostage to non budgetary agenda items for which there is not a mandate (defined as 30 votes in the Senate and 60 votes in the House). Yesterday, Illinois' wealthiest citizen (Ken Griffin) provided the largest contribution in Illinois history ($20 million) to a non-candidate (Bruce Rauner) for his support of policies which diminish working class workers in order to benefit the very wealthiest. Former Governors Edgar, Ryan and Thompson have all stated that Mr. Rauner needs to pass a budget separate of non budgetary agenda. Reggie Phillips and Dale Righter are supporting the Rauner agenda which has resulted in unprecedented cuts and layoffs at EIU; they should be ashamed.

787 wrote on May 18, 2017 at 5:05 pm

It took Mike Madigan around 30 years to wreck this state, so for it to take 10 or 15 years to recover probably isn't out of line.

Thanks to all of the democrats who have directly or indirectly supported Mike Madigan all these years.  You're all a bunch of idiots.  Look what you've accomplished with his help.