How much longer will the Illinois Legislature ignore the state's most pressing problem — its bankrupt finances?
Gov. Pat Quinn will appear before the Illinois General Assembly on Wednesday to deliver the governor's annual State of the State address.
Not intending to steal the governor's thunder, we offer a preview. The state of the state is abysmal, awful, horrendous, abominable — in other words, not even close to fair to middlin'.
Further, it's not exactly a secret that Illinois is low and sinking even deeper fast.
So it was somewhat of a surprise to hear, in response to news reporter inquiries, state Rep. Barbara Wheeler, a Crystal Lake Republican, give the following response when asked what she would like Quinn to say.
"What I'd like to hear from him is real conviction to resolve serious financial problems. What I'm afraid is going to happen is more lip service toward the problem and more accolades toward what is perceived as successful within the state," she said.
Not to pick on Wheeler, a newcomer to the General Assembly, but her apparent desire to put the state's financial problems on Quinn's back is a bit unfair. Perhaps her comments are due to inexperience in Springfield. Perhaps she's playing the partisan game and, being a Republican, trying to lay the blame on a Democratic governor.
Quinn certainly deserves his share of the criticism for Illinois' serious financial predicament. But, in our view, he's less culpable than the Legislature for the state's refusal to act in the face of a budget deficit, multibillion-dollar state debt and woefully underfunded public pension systems.
Indeed, Quinn has been consistently urging the Illinois House and Senate to act and has been consistently ignored by legislative leaders as well as rank-and-file members.
It's important for people to remember that our state government, like the federal government, is divided into three separate but equal branches of government — the executive, the legislative and the judicial.
Governors can urge the passage of laws until they are blue in the face. But they can rely only on the power of persuasion in prompting legislative action.
The General Assembly is the state's policy-making branch of government, while the executive and the judicial enforce and interpret the policy, or laws, the legislative branch passes.
Illinois has been facing increasingly serious financial problems for years now, and, for the most part, ignored them in the hope they would go away on their own.
In that time, the state's financial picture has gone from really bad to even worse, and the only major action the governor and Legislature have taken, in concert, is to approve a major state income tax increase. State budgets have grown increasingly tight but there has been little to no progress made on reducing state debt and public pension underfunding has grown to roughly $96 billion.
So it really is less important what Quinn says Wednesday than what the General Assembly resolves to do about it.
Legislative action is so long past due that we've pretty much given up hope that House and Senate Democrats, who hold large majorities, will ever take action. It would appear from the outside that they have no choice but to make the tough but necessary decisions to put state finances on firmer ground, but it's appeared that way for years now while they've twiddled their thumbs.
It would be no surprise if Quinn, as he has in the past, issued a call to arms on the financial issues. But he's done that before. It's time for the state's policy-making branch of government to do its job.