Can Illinois handle truth?

Can Illinois handle truth?

Here's another warning that seems certain to be ignored.

Everyone who's paying attention knows that Illinois' finances are in terrible shape. But, really, how bad are they?

Well, according to Truth in Accounting, it's even worse than the worst pessimists among the citizenry think it is.

"Government officials continue to obscure large amounts of retirement debt on their balance sheets, despite new rules to increase financial transparency," the Chicago-based financial think tank states. "This skewed financial data gives state residents a false impression of their state's overall financial health."

The question raised by this latest revelation is whether it even makes a dent in our collective understanding of the gravity of this state's finances. Further, assuming our elected officials in Springfield understand, and that's a dangerous assumption, how long will they allow politics to continue to trump policy in terms of working together on a solution?

Just a couple days ago, Gov. Bruce Rauner expressed optimism that he and Republican and Democratic members of the Illinois Senate can reach common ground on the budget and policy reforms issues that have divided them.

People should wait to see whether Rauner is correct before they put too much stock in his optimistic prediction.

But even if Rauner and the Senate can reach an accord, there's real doubt whether Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan will seriously consider allowing the House to embrace the agreement.

There's plenty of evidence that Madigan is prepared to allow the state to go without a budget until the November 2018 election. Even if that's not accurate, it's still pretty clear that Madigan continues to stick by his plan to deny Rauner any of the policy changes he's seeking.

After all, Illinois already has gone nearly two years without a budget. What's two more if the politics of capturing the governor's office in 2018 is the issue rather than the best interests of the people of Illinois?

So, according to Truth in Accounting, here's where the state is at.

It contends that Illinois "now needs $210.4 billion to pay off its bills," equating to $50,400 for "every Illinois taxpayer."

The Illinois comptroller's office reported Thursday that its backlog of unpaid bill has reached $13.4 billion. Just a couple weeks ago, it stood at around $12.5 billion.

The increase serves as another reminder that problems ignored don't go away but get worse.

As for Illinois' unfunded public pension liability, the latest number was $131 billion. But that number grows worse by the year. Truth in Accounting said the pension debt "jumped by $21 billion, or 18 percent more in one year."

As for the state spending absent a budget, more money continues to be spent than is coming in, billions more dollars.

Truth in Accounting puts the total debt at $210.4 billion — higher than previous reports have indicated — because "the state's retirement plan actuarial report and its audited 2016 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report do not include health care costs for retirees in the Teachers Retirement Insurance Program or its college insurance program."

In spite of this looming disaster, it seems that nothing less than complete capitulation to Speaker Madigan's budget demands will lead to a political settlement.

Perhaps that's why Truth in Accounting's CEO Sheila Weinberg said, "We're not calling it a fiscal crisis anymore."

"It's a crisis in democracy because the legislators are spending money we don't have and we're not able to make taxing and spending decisions because we're not given enough information," she said.

The people of Illinois, however, have been given enough information to know that it's way past time for our elected officials to take action. If only they would come to a similar conclusion.

Sections (2):Editorials, Opinion

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Exbricklayer wrote on April 21, 2017 at 8:04 am

==In spite of this looming disaster, it seems that nothing less than complete capitulation to Speaker Madigan's budget demands will lead to a political settlement.==

In spite of this looming disaster, it seems that nothing less than complete capitulation to Governor Rauner's budget demands will lead to a political settlement.


There, fixed it for ya.

catsrule wrote on April 21, 2017 at 10:04 am

Article VIII, Section 2 of the Illinois Constitution: "The Governor shall prepare and submit to the General Assembly, at a time prescribed by law, a State budget for the ensuing fiscal year". Mr. Rauner has not proposed a balanced budget. COGFA indicates Rauner's most recent budget proposal has a roughly $4.9 billion deficit. Universities and social service providers are being destroyed in support of an agenda for which there is no mandate. If Mike Madigan were to resign, there would not be a Democrat replacement who as Speaker of the House would advocate for the destruction of organized labor (Mr. Rauner's number one goal and fixation), enactment of so called "right to work" laws and elimination of prevailing wage laws. As Mr. Rauner said when campaigning against Pat Quinn, "governors own". Not withstanding what the News-Gazette editorial board or the discredited and billionaire funded Illinois Policy Institute say, Illinois is in worse condition now than before Mr. Rauner was elected by every measure and as pointed out by 3 former Republican Governors of Illinois, Crain's Chicago Business and the Chicago Tribune.

C in Champaign wrote on April 21, 2017 at 11:04 am

The problem isn't that it's worse than people believe it is, the problem is really two things. First, the financial issues, and the longer term crisis they create is so extraordinarily complex, that is is barely understandable by the accountants charged with reporting it, let alone the average citizen who is charged with voting for the people who are supposed to be fixing it. And Second, there is a massive portion of the voters who are vaguely aware that there is a problem, but really don't care. They just want to make sure they get their money, even if it is at the expense of the future generations of illinois residents.

What fascinates me the most about the whole mess is this: the democrats had the opportunity to make the tax increases permanent, but punted thinking they could force Gov. Rauner into raising it so that they would be able to blame the republicans for the permanent increase, and use it to gain even more seats in the mid term election, which of course didn't happen. Now, if Rauner gets beaten in the next election, assuming the Democrats with a new Governor raise taxes, the new Governor, Mr. Madigan, and his cronies will have to own it all for themselves. Doesn't that put the democrats in exactly the position they started, and attempted to avoid prior to Rauner's election, except that the hole is substantially deeper?

catsrule wrote on April 21, 2017 at 11:04 am

C in Champaign, I believe your assessment is very accurate with respect to the Democrats "owning" a future tax increase from a political standpoint if a Democrat is elected governor (far from a certainty at this point), not withstanding arguments for and against such.   The expiration of the temporary tax increase that took place a couple of years ago greatly exacerbated Illinois' current fiscal problems.  

Exbricklayer wrote on April 21, 2017 at 3:04 pm

The Democrats allowed the tax increase to expire at Rauner's behest. It was Rauner that assured us all that he had a plan to balance the budget without the tax increase.

Citizen1 wrote on April 21, 2017 at 3:04 pm

He did have a plan - cut spending, reform pensions.  Dems defeated those ideas with more tax and spend

catsrule wrote on April 21, 2017 at 6:04 pm

Citizen1, So called "pension reform" proposals have been supported by Democrat and Republican lawmakers in both houses, they were deemed to be unconstitutional by the Illinois Supreme Court. Proposals to balance the budget without additional revenue may appeal to those who only listen to slick sound bites produced by the discredited and billionaire funded IPI, but they are completely unrealistic and would require extreme austerity measures not supported by the majority of Illinoisans. OTOH, Bruce Rauner could use amendatory veto power to approve a balanced budget which funds his priorities and advances the interests of the GOP as a whole in an incremental manner. Bruce Rauner has wasted 2 years campaigning for the next election and blaming everyone but himself for IL's problems, demonstrating he is either incapable and or unwilling to govern. He is holding the budget as a hostage until the IL General Assembly agrees to his demands which have no mandate. In the meantime, higher education and social service providers, many of whom have not been paid for services provided under contract to the State, are being destroyed by Mr. Rauner's intransience.