It's incredible what a difference an honest, effective and disciplined approach to state government can make.
Three months into the states' budget years, both Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels are facing serious financial issues.
But they're different kind of issues, and Quinn would love to be in Daniels' shoes.
While Illinois is stumbling in the fiscal darkness, robbing Peter to pay Paul, trying to ignore problems of the state's seriously underfunded public pension systems and coping with a 9.1 percent unemployment rate that results in an insufficient number of taxpayers, Indiana is trying to deal with, compared with Illinois, an embarrassment of riches.
With more than $2 billion in the bank and an estimated $500 million more in revenues than planned expenditures in the state's current budget, Daniels is presiding over refunds to the state's taxpayers and providing additional funding for the state's pension systems.
Last week, Daniels announced that $360 million from the state's surplus funds will be used to shore up state's pension plans — $206.8 million for the Pre-1996 Teachers Retirement Fund, $90 million for the state's judicial retirement fund, $1.46 million for the Conservation, Gaming and Excise Officers' Pension Fund, $17.4 million for the Prosecutors' Pension Fund and $31.7 million for the State Police Pension Fund.
These additional deposits will go into a state pension system that already is considered fully funded and the strongest in the nation.
Adhering to state law that mandates some surplus funds be returned to taxpayers, Daniels also announced that $360 million will be returned to the public in the form of a tax deduction. Each individual will get roughly $100, with $200 for a couple.
Suffice it to say, Indiana's fiscal house is in a little bit better order than that of Illinois. Here we have specialized for years in spending money the state doesn't have, passing new programs the state can't afford, making appropriations that are not funded, ignoring bills that are due and pretty much doing every other stupid thing our elected officials can dream up.
Here's something else to chew on.
Indiana was in sorry fiscal shape when Daniels, the next president of Purdue University, took over eight year ago. He made it a point to clean up the mess first because he understood that effective state government is not possible in an atmosphere of constant financial chaos.
Stability is a necessity if a state is to meet its obligations. A business-friendly environment is required if good jobs are to be available to people who want to work.
Daniels drew criticism when he cracked the whip, but few people are complaining now. How can they when Indiana is thriving while much of the rest of the nation copes with lagging economic growth? Just think about how Indiana will be prepared to take off when, perhaps if is a better word, the nation's economy starts moving again.
While predicting Indiana's economy will continue to grow, Daniels warned that "our first job has always been to protect Hoosiers against a catastrophe that is happening all around us, right next door to us in a couple places."
There are many people who resent comparisons of this nature, thinking that it's unfair and inaccurate to suggest that Indiana is a better state than Illinois.
Indiana is not a better state than Illinois, although there are many Hoosiers who will disagree. But it's beyond debate that Indiana's political leadership over the past eight years has been far superior to that of Illinois.
Those lucky Hoosiers get to enjoy the fiscal benefits of that superior management while Illinoisans are forced to endure the many embarrassments that go with the corrupt, incompetent, business-as-usual approach that has been our undoing.
Some may recall that Gov. Daniels came to visit Champaign-Urbana earlier this year, drawing a crowd of union protesters who insisted that Daniels had nothing to say that was worth hearing.
His record shows that he has much advice that would serve Illinois well, not, of course, that our state's political elite has any interest in changing its selfish and self-destructive approach.