In spreading the state's money around, Illinois lawmakers resemble toddlers wildly throwing around their vegetable mash. This irresponsibility has resulted in $6 billion in unpaid bills and a bond rating that ranks worst in the nation. In fact, the situation in Illinois has gotten so messy that legislators passed a bill granting Governor Quinn the power to write the budget himself, thus absolving themselves of any responsibility in an election year. However, even with this unprecedented expansion of power, Gov. Quinn still can't seem to figure out how to reform the tax hikes and massive amounts of borrowing that got Illinois into this problem in the first place. While Quinn has been thus far unable to find any solutions, the Illinois Policy Institute (IPI) has developed a plan that stimulates the economy instead of my gag reflexes.
The strategies published by the IPI focus on prioritizing spending, reducing labor costs to more closely resemble the private sector, and reforming pension funding. These three areas have the capacity to significantly reduce the state's $12.8 billion deficit and represent the common sense solution to a looming fiscal crisis. So why weren't lawmakers able to arrive at these same results? Three words: public employees' unions. Since most of the reforms that the IPI has suggested affect government employees and their benefits, public employee union bosses are fighting tooth and nail to preserve the outrageously expensive and generous benefits that such workers already receive. It is an attitude that has plagued state budgets and created a veritable "protected class." The genesis of this problem can be summed up by none other than former California Speaker Willie Brown:
"The deal used to be that civil servants were paid less than private-sector workers in exchange for an understanding that they had job security for life. But we politicians, pushed by our friends in labor, gradually expanded pay and benefits to private-sector levels while keeping the job protections and layering on incredibly generous retirement packages that pay ex-workers almost as much as current workers."
In Illinois alone, public sector employees receive benefits packages that are, on average, quadruple what a private sector employee receives, creating a huge financial strain on the state. These oversize benefits have contributed to a pension system that is underfunded by as much as $62 billion. Meaningful reform in this area is necessary for the economic survival of the state.
With all these great ideas coming out of the Illinois Policy Institute, it is unfortunate to see politicians playing into the hands of union bosses while their state sinks further into debt and, ultimately, fiscal ruin. It’s time for the government to learn to budget like a family and start spending within their means or Illinoisans will find themselves swallowed by the enormity of their mess.