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Illinois passes semi-balanced budget with bridge money built in

Belleville News Democrat

Thursday, June 7, 2018  |  Editorial  |  By the BND Editorial Board

Budget--State (8) , Governor (44) Madigan, Michael--State House, 22
Illinois leaders have certainly succeeded in lowering our expectations.

The last time Illinois had a balanced budget was 2001. After 17 years, you kind of figure that the Illinois Constitution's mandate that the budget be balanced is more like a suggestion.

Then Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and Gov. Bruce Rauner spent two years staring each other down and we had no budget. The state's universities and social services were starved down to their skeletons, the new school year was in jeopardy until a $5 billion state income tax hike last year seemed like the only way to get a budget.

Seems great, especially with southwestern Illinois getting $73.3 million for some major construction needs, including the first money towards designing a desperately needed replacement to the 52-year-old, overloaded Chain of Rocks Bridge.

But on closer examination it appears the state's budget is balanced in name only, making some optimistic assumptions based on other than the real world.

The Illinois Policy Institute's economists found $1.5 billion out of the new budget's $38.5 billion that is unlikely to materialize. That includes $444 million mainly based on convincing state workers to take buyouts of their gold-plated pensions rather than risk the system going bust, finding some sucker to spend $300 million on the glass-enclosed white elephant of a state office building in downtown Chicago that needs more than the asking price in repairs, and ignores the big raise the state's been ordered to give the AFSCME state employees' union.

Our unpaid state bills total $7 billion, with another $2 billion in state agency bills that have yet to be presented for payment.

By consistently lowering our expectations, that $1.5 billion in new debt likely to come from the new budget doesn't seem so bad. What's $1.5 billion when you already have $9 billion in overdue bills, just borrowed $6 billion to pay some of the bills and owe $216.1 billion for pensions and other borrowing.

Illinois politicians already obligated each taxpayer to $50,800 in debt. Spread out that $1.5 billion, and we're only talking $353 extra per taxpayer.

Pfffft. No problem.