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Our View: Still waiting on Springfield

Published: Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

An analysis of the state budget such as the one released last week by the Civic Federation hardly counts as earth-shattering news.

The federation, a nonpartisan watchdog group based in Chicago, said Illinois’ current budget was a “lost opportunity” because lawmakers didn’t prepare for the dire financial realities that lie ahead.

“This year was a lost opportunity as legislators failed to prepare for the extreme financial challenges everyone knows are on the immediate horizon,” said Laurence Msall, Civic Federation president.

Those realities? Ballooning pension payments and the expiration of the temporary income-tax increase.

This space has been devoted many times to these financial pitfalls. The state’s pension plan is unsustainable, and nobody in Springfield is willing to fix it. The income-tax increase, pushed through by Democrats in a lame-duck session of the General Assembly in 2011, likely is to be made permanent by lawmakers, further limiting the disposable income that taxpayers have available to help the state’s struggling economy. In addition, Democratic lawmakers are floating the idea of a progressive income tax, which would be disastrous for job production in Illinois.

The federation’s analysis of the $35.4 billion budget, which that took effect July 1, noted that while lawmakers used an unanticipated, one-time spike in tax receipts to pay down some overdue bills last year, the backlog is still projected to be about $5.8 billion at the end of the current fiscal year.

Combine that with the $100 billion in unfunded pension obligations, and, surprise, things don’t look good.

Of course, things haven’t looked good for years now. Not that Springfield has done anything to correct it. Pensions have gone unreformed. Spending has not been curtailed. Medicaid reform hasn’t proceeded. The state’s business climate is as favorable as Congress’ approval ratings.

So, yes, the Civic Federation’s analysis hardly told us anything we didn’t already know: Illinois is in bad shape, and taxpayers have been waiting forever for lawmakers to address it.

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