Illinois has long had the distinction of being the state with one of the, if not the, most precarious financial positions. The formula has been simple: overspend, tax, overspend, tax, overspend, borrow, overspend, borrow, overspend, borrow. At some point, and this may be the point, the state cannot borrow enough anymore.
One of the statistics that sticks in my head is this: In a recent 10 year period, Illinois’ population is roughly flat while “spending per person, after inflation, is up almost 47% (link).” Unsustainable, of course.
Where has all the money gone? Pensions to government workers, including teachers, in a system where the pension payment is set by a formula that disproportionately weights the last year’s salary, which, of course, is artificially bumped up to astronomical levels by the politicians and their union compatriots to jack up the lifetime retiree monthly pension payments. And who pays for all this? The shrinking Illinois taxpayers.
Says (link) the Chicago Tribune to the Land of Lincoln: “You've bizarrely promised your workers some $80 billion more in pension payouts than you can afford. What's more, you've promised them additional billions that you don't have for their health care after they retire.”
And then there’s Medicaid – here’s the essence: “Medicaid spending eats up 30 percent of Illinois’s budgetary pie…. Between 2003 and 2008, [Illinois’] Medicaid enrollment grew at an average rate of 7.8 percent a year while Illinois's population only grew 0.5 percent" (link). Sheesh.
Writes Amy Merrick in the Wall Street Journal (link): “Illinois's deficit through mid-2011 is estimated at $11 billion to $13 billion—close to 50% of the expected $26.7 billion in available revenue for the coming fiscal year…. That is among the worst such percentages among states…. The state pension system also is the worst-funded in the U.S. … State auditors estimate that the pension systems are underfunded by $62 billion…. Required pension contributions, including interest payments, have nearly quadrupled in the past 10 years.”
Now, in today’s Wall Street Journal, Steven Malanga writes (link) that in June 2010, based on cost of default “insurance” for holders of debt, “Illinois surpassed California as the worst credit risk among U.S. states, [and] was at greater risk of default than Iraq.” Great.
And how did Illinois voters respond this month to this historic crisis? They opted for the ostrich maneuver, re-electing the sitting Illinois Democrat governor whose plan is to cut spending a bit and raise taxes a lot, and re-elected a majority of Democrats to the Illinois House and Senate, the former presided over, seemingly forever, by a Democrat Speaker named Madigan whom many regard as the most powerful politician in Illinois and who probably more than anyone else has overseen this debt debacle.
What happened to hope and change?
John M Greco
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