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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 7/13/12

Illinois Politics

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     Groucho Marx once observed: "Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it, misdiagnosing it, and then misapplying the wrong remedies."

       Politicians in Illinois don't have to look very far to find trouble:

  • The National Conference of State Legislatures released a report in July 2010 declaring llinois' financial situation to be the worst in the nation.
  • Illinois' budget deficit stands at $43.8 billion and has more than doubled in the last five years. (Auditor General report, 6/21/12)
  • Illinois has unpaid bills totaling about $8.5 billion. (The News Gazette, 06/20/2012 )
  • Illinois has the largest unfunded pension obligations in the nation with unfunded liabilities totaling $84.2 billion in fiscal year 2012 (SURS, 2011)


       Illinois politicians have diagnosed the problem: The state is spending too much. To remedy this, they are closing facilities, laying off workers, eliminating programs, screwing retirees and slashing budgets.

     Is their diagnosis correct? Is Illinois really spending too much? Let's look at some facts collected by The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability :

  • Even though Illinois ranks 13th in per capita Gross Domestic Product among the states, it ranks 43rd in spending on public services.
  • "[Illinois] has been cutting real spending on all four categories of core public services for over a decade and ranks well below the national average in critical Education and Human Service spending both in per-capita and capacity terms."-- April 2012
  • In 2006, Illinois ranked 50th in state funding of education.
  • A study by Associated Press (6/30/12) found that Illinois has the smallest number of state workers per 1,000 residents of any state in the union. (The study excluded education employees.)


     According to the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability (CTBA) , Illinois does not have a spending problem; it has a revenue problem. Illinois' tax system does not even generate enough revenue to maintain public services at the same level from year to year--let alone improve anything.

     This is not some temporary problem brought on by the recession.

  • "In 2005, when other states were doing well, Illinois was one of only three states to finish the budget year with a deficit."--Rockford Register Star, 7/7/12

     Illinois Politicians have done nothing to improve the situation. In fact, they continue to make it worse:

  • "The state hasn't had a balanced budget since 2001. It papered over its budget problems by stringing out payments to doctors, pharmacists, schools and local governments. It diverted money designated for special purposes to pay for general operations. It borrowed money to cover its annual pension payments."--Daniel C. Vock, Staff Writer, Pew Center on the States, 5/19/11
  • "A cuts-only approach to state budget deficits is shortsighted--imposing immediate harm on families, while dampening economic recovery and compromising the future competitiveness of the American workforce."--United for a Fair Economy, 5/25/11
  • "Illinois has consistently cut payments to the private sector, nonprofit companies that provide the vast majority of direct human services in Illinois. This is the worst strategy during a recession, as it both reduces access to services when the need for them is greatest, and forces cutbacks and closures among nonprofit private businesses, further shrinking the Illinois economy and exacerbating overall unemployment in Illinois."-- Ron Baiman, CTBA, 2/24/10


       The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability (CTBA) is a bi-partisan think tank created to promote fair and efficient tax, spending and economic policies in Illinois. It does so by analyzing Illinois ' fiscal problems with the goal of finding solutions which will ensure that essential state services are properly funded and the state's tax system is fair to all Illinoisans.

     One would hope the politicians in Springfield, Illinois would use the same kind of careful analysis with the same lofty goals as the CTBA, but that doesn't seem to be the case. This may be because the staff at CTBA is comprised of experts in research and analysis of economic and fiscal policy; while most politicians' only qualification for dealing with complex economic matters is that they won an election.


       While there are several things the state could do to increase tax revenues, the CTBA states:

  • "[T]here is one long-term, structural policy change that would simultaneously stimulate job growth in the state, tax people more fairly and reduce Illinois' General Fund deficits: creating a graduated rate structure for the Illinois individual income tax."

     The poorest 20 percent of Illinois households pay 13 percent of their income in combined income, property, and sales taxes. Those in the top 20 percent pay only 6.2 percent, and the richest one percent pays only 4.1 percent of their income. Does that sound fair?

  • "The current Illinois tax system is the opposite of fair, because it places the greatest burden on low and middle income families. Indeed Illinois presently has the third highest tax burden for low income families of all 50 states."--CTBA Fact Sheet, March 2012


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Mick Youther is an American citizen, an independent voter, a veteran, a parent, a scientist, a writer, and all-around nice guy who has been roused from a comfortable apathy by the high crimes and misdemeanors of the Bush Administration.

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