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.