Sunday Extra: Budget should be front-page news

Sunday Extra: Budget should be front-page news

By EDWARD ELLIOTT

There's an old adage that goes, "How do you know you don't know what you don't know?" So goes the budget in Illinois. How can residents have an opinion when there's no in-depth reporting? For weeks, the budget stalemate was buried in section B, which makes sense given reporting's been superficial at best.

Another old adage says, "Figures don't lie, liars figure." Any so-called in-depth reporting has left way more questions, or specifically, more glossing over the situation, than anything. Real reporters dig into the situation to get answers to key questions that get to the real story.

Explain how the legislature factored the judicial order to pay Medicaid $586 million monthly. That's a whopping $7 billion annually, representing 19.5 percent of the annual budget! Prove this is accounted for in the budget.

How much money is Illinois going to borrow? Reportedly it's $6 billion at 6 percent interest. Does Illinois have resources to repay? Per a Democrat on the finance committee, Illinois can only afford $3 billion. So exactly how will this be done? Term length, annual payment, etc., in simple terms, to confirm this is a solid plan and covered in the budget, given interest is $320 million the first year alone.

Assuming the $6 billion happens, how does the budget address the remaining $9 billion in unpaid bills? What's the anticipated carryover of unpaid bills next year? After all, $9 billion represents 25 percent of the annual budget, and Illinois doesn't have resources for that.

Then there's school funding. The News-Gazette reported July 19 about the fight that's going on. Dig deeper, give a clear picture of the issue. Assuming the hold-harmless clause guarantees no reductions, only additional funds need explained. Exactly what is the total of the increase in funding? How will it be dispersed? The article didn't discuss Chicao Public Schools funding. Does S.B. 1 give CPS additional funding outside of K-12 funding, as purported, and if so, how much? Is that addressed in the budget? Residents needs to know the facts.

Exactly where does the state stand on pension funding? What is the deficit; is it $151 billion or the reported estimate of $210 billion? What percentage of the budget is needed to address these expenditures?

And the big one... is the budget balanced or not? Don't parrot legislators, do investigative reporting, get to the real numbers! The sheer fact there's a $2 billion discrepancy in what's being reported should give a real investigative reporter enough fodder to dig deep into the 585-page revenue bill to find out what else is there that we don't know besides the already-discovered gasoline tax. Comparing that to the appropriations bill, will there be a $200 million surplus (what a joke with $15 billion in unpaid bills) or a $2 billion hole?

What's needed is a full-page report on the entire budget, with investigative reporting, documenting any holes or questionable numbers. Not just articles that parrot legislators. This is front-page news. The future of the state is at stake.

Edward Elliott lives in Paxton.

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