Quinn's fantasy is not reality
Judging only from Gov. Pat Quinn's promise-laden speech to legislators, you wouldn't guess that Illinois is broke.
Quinn's appearance this week before the General Assembly was officially cast as the annual State of the State address. But Quinn was in full campaign mode as he bragged about the accomplishments on his watch and promised even better days ahead.
"We're back on course — Illinois is moving forward," he said.
Putting his best foot forward, Quinn contended that Illinois is a "more ethical state," "a better place to do business" and, because of the abolition of the death penalty and the passage of a same-sex marriage law, a more moral place to live.
Illinois is better off than it has been in recent years. But considering how bad things were and how minimally circumstances have improved, that's not much to brag about.
That's not to say Illinois' past pathetic circumstances are Quinn's fault. He inherited a corrupt state from the now-imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, in a time of dire economic circumstances, and has been trying in his limited way to dig out ever since.
To his credit, he has shown some leadership on important issues, most particularly the state's public pension crisis. Given his lack of influence with legislative leaders and his unwillingness to make substantive proposals, it's been more akin to nagging than leading
Unfortunately, Illinois is effectively bankrupt, and financial chaos will reign until our elected officials have the stomach to make difficult decisions necessary to restore its fiscal health.
Quinn put that aside Wednesday when he ignored financial reality and proposed a series of spending programs and tax cuts designed to appease various political constituency groups. The Quinn laundry list may be smart politics, but it represents more of the same short-sighted decision-making that got Illinois into such deep trouble to begin with.
Quinn proposed a $100 child tax credit, a tax credit for hiring military veterans, an early education program for children ages 3-5, expanding scholarship spending for aspiring college students and a public works construction program. At the same time, he recommended eliminating the state's natural gas utility tax and reducing the state's limited liability corporate registration fees from $500 to $39.
He proposes these programs at a time when Illinois can't pay its bills, and faces budget deficits and staggering long-term pension liabilities.
While that may sound good to the uninformed on the campaign trail, Quinn's programs are both unrealistic and irresponsible in light of the state's economic realities.
That's not to say, of course, that legislators, influenced by short-term political pressures, won't do some or all of what Quinn recommends. They've shown terrible judgment in the past and may well do so again.
It should come as no surprise that the governor did not explain how he plans to finance the extensive list of programs he proposed. He said nothing about extending the temporary state income tax increase that expires at the end of the year and chose not to restate his previously expressed support for a progressive income tax.
Instead, he gave a political sales pitch that was more rooted in fiscal fantasy than reality, just another example of politics trumping policy in a state that deserves better.