Anyone care about costs?

Anyone care about costs?

Who would have thought that ignorance would be just another arrow in a politician's quiver?

In a state as financially debased as Illinois, taxpayers might think that legislators would be especially careful when it comes to how they spend money.

After all, they've misspent so much money for so long that they've had ample time to learn from their mistakes. With more than $12 billion in unpaid bills, $130 billion in underfunded public pension system and many millions more in deficits resulting from going nearly two years without a budget, Illinois is not in the position of spending without carefully thinking.

Unfortunately, according to the Illinois Policy Institute, legislators make it a practice to pass legislation while having little to no idea what they will cost.

The IPI's Brendan Bakala reports that of the 938 bills passed into law March 2015 to January 2017, just 2.9 percent contained the fiscal notes that "essentially act as a price tag for a bill and contain details about how much the state will pay for a particular law."

The first question raised by that statistic is just why the people of Illinois need 938 new pieces of legislation that weren't on the books prior to March 2015. They almost assuredly didn't.

That fact alone is justification for limiting legislative sessions to about three months every two years, rather than the orgy of non-stop lawmaking currently in place.

The second question is why is the Legislature so intent on not knowing the financial consequences of the decisions it makes?

Illinois currently requires fiscal notes on bills that pertain directly to state revenues and debts. But that rule seems to be applied in a hit-or-miss fashion because, Bakala writes, "many pieces of legislation that have financial implications do not include fiscal notes."

Recent examples include Illinois' tax-credit program that benefits large corporations and a bond borrowing program that authorizes the Regional Transportation Authority to raise more than $100 million.

Ten states currently require every law to carry fiscal notes. Since it's just a matter of financial prudence, one wonders why it's not 50.

Well, perhaps, it's just the way politicians do business. Maybe they really don't want to know because to know the cost would be to know whether it's affordable. When politicians are trying to buy off constituent groups with public dollars, cost estimates can get in the way.

That could explain why the General Assembly hasn't passed a mandatory financial note for every bill it passes.

In 2011, state Sen. Pamela Althoff, a McHenry Republican, proposed legislation that garnered widespread support in the Senate to broaden the rules for fiscal notes. Bakala reports that the proposed Fiscal Note Act died after it was denied a floor vote.

In other words, leaders of the Democratic-controlled Senate killed it by refusing to call the bill.


It seems obvious that too much information about the costs of pending legislation posed a problem the powers-that-be preferred to avoid.

Well, OK. That's the way politics is played in Illinois.

But this kind of irresponsible practice only ensures that legislators will continue to spend money the state doesn't have. Just because some of them may not know what they're spending doesn't lessen the ultimate cost taxpayers must bear.

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