The light at the end of Illinois' fiscal tunnel is an oncoming train.
When it rains, it pours. And when states like Illinois confront stormy weather because they can't establish budget priorities, they leak like sieves.
Given Illinois' huge budget problems, its debts and unfunded public pension liabilities approaching $100 billion, it may surprise people to know that Gov. Pat Quinn has proposed an additional $12 million for the coming fiscal year to subsidize Amtrak train service in Illinois. That's on top of this year's $26 million, bringing total state spending for Amtrak to an estimated $38 million.
That figure is not final yet because state officials are negotiating with federal officials to see if they can pay less. Ironically, Illinois won't get more service from Amtrak for the extra money — it's just getting a bigger bill, a consequence of federal legislation requiring states to pick up a larger share of the subsidies that underwrite the money-losing passenger train service.
Let's see — where will that extra $12 million come from? Maybe from state appropriations for K-12 education, perhaps from funding for local social service agencies. State officials could delay even further the payment of bills to private businesses that provided services and goods to the state.
The money will have to come from somewhere because the state does not have nearly enough to go around.
Despite a dramatic personal and corporate income tax increase two years ago, Illinois' state finances remain in melt-down mode. For too long, state officials refused to limit their spending and opted instead to be all things to all people.
Amtrak is just one example. The passenger train service has been a money-loser for decades, but the federal and state government just keep on subsidizing it because ... well, just because adjusting spending priorities to anticipated revenue wasn't a priority.