Our view: Message is dire from Illinois budget task force

The numbers aren’t a secret.

Illinois is $9 billion behind in paying its bills.

The state’s public pension systems are underfunded by more than $85 billion.

Unfunded liabilities for health care benefits for public retirees exceed more than $1 trillion.

An analysis of Illinois’ growing fiscal crisis, released Wednesday by the State Budget Crisis Task Force, puts our situation in dire terms.

Despite a Medicaid reform package passed earlier this year and other expense cuts, Illinois remains in a deep fiscal hole. The task force concluded that Illinois “cannot simultaneously continue current services, keep taxes at current levels, provide all promised [public retiree pension and health care] benefits, and make needed investments in education and infrastructure.”

The task force’s analysis is light on specific recommendations. In general terms, it concludes that a combination of spending cuts and revenue increases “probably will be needed.”

It also acknowledges that “pension reform is necessary to salvage the benefits of future retirees.”

We agree that spending cuts and pension reform are vital. Illinois taxpayers are not in a position to give even more, however. Not after last year’s income tax increase. Not after decades of wasteful spending and other mismanagement in Springfield.

Gov. Pat Quinn and members of the Illinois General Assembly have known for years that tough decisions were necessary. Unfortunately for everyone, they continued to put those decisions off.

That can’t happen anymore.

“Deferring action can only make the ultimate costs even greater,” task force Chairmen Richard Ravitch, former New York lieutenant governor, and Paul Volcker, former Federal Reserve Board chairman, wrote in their report. “The conclusion of the task force is unambiguous. The existing trajectory of state spending, taxation, and administrative practices cannot be sustained. The basic problem is not cyclical. It is structural. The time to act is now.”

We hope that voters are listening. And after the Nov. 6 election, those elected to office must act.

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