Out of Balance

balance-154516_1280.pngFor over a decade, our state spending has been greater than the tax revenue we’ve taken in. Our state constitution required our budgets to be balanced, but instead of “balance,” the General Assembly used fund transfers and short-term borrowing to conceal over-spending. To the outside observer, those accounting tricks made it look like there was sufficient incoming revenue to cover the outgoing expenditures. But the whole scheme was a lie.

Essentially, when the credit card bill came due, we didn’t pay it off: we kept spending too much, and just transferred our balance to another card. The problem wasn’t on the income side, either. Our tax revenue has been generally healthy, enough to fund a proper state government. Had the General Assembly told the various special interests in Springfield, “no more,” we would have spent plenty of money, just not more money than we had coming in.

Predictably, Speaker Mike Madigan and his supporters disagree with this assessment. They were in charge for that decade of over-spending, because Madigan drew the legislative maps for the General Assembly, ensuring Democratic super-majorities in the House and Senate.

But that all changed in 2015, when the new governor came into office. He, along with the Republicans in the General Assembly, said “enough.” Enough to the over-spending, the tricks, and the lies. We found ourselves in a deep, deep hole—and the only way out of a hole like this is to first stop digging.

We’ve essentially been at a stalemate ever since. For the past year and a half, our state has operated without a budget: the spending of the state has instead been made through court orders, consent decrees, and short-term, limited legislation.

The four legislative leaders and the governor have met a couple times since veto session ended on December 1. The governor offered to Madigan that he was willing to consider a tax increase to cover the budget hole, but only if significant reforms can be made, to create jobs and clean up state government. However, Madigan responded publicly that they should do the budget first before talking reforms. So, the governor replied asking Madigan what his budget proposal was. The answer: “we’re working on it.” At that point, the governor said he’d call the next meeting as soon as Madigan’s proposal is ready. That was two weeks ago.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been part of several meetings of the reform working group, which is currently focused on worker’s compensation cost reduction. Manufacturing companies regularly tell me that our worker’s compensation costs are the highest in the Midwest, making us less competitive for jobs in that field and others.

Yet, you can tell that there’s no great willingness to compromise in these meetings. Agreements are few and far between, limited primarily to minor issues that the parties should agree on anyway.

I won’t sugarcoat it for you: Springfield is a very dark place. But when things are darkest, the light shines brighter. Here’s hoping that the Christmas story in some way rubs off on our state’s elected officials. May they see the Light emerging out of the darkness and embrace the grace and peace of Christmas. And then, with that inspiration, deliver a brighter future to the people of Illinois.

In the Breen household, we are having a wonderful time preparing for “Baby’s First Christmas.” May you and your family be blessed with the full measure of Christmas joy!