Senior Budget and Tax Policy Analyst
During a House Executive Committee meeting this week, one round of testimony began with the argument that Illinois is in a fiscal crisis because it has $9 billion in unpaid bills. That argument couldn’t be more backward.
Illinois’ crisis is due to habitual overspending, that results in unpaid bills.
Unfortunately, the recent “solution” offered up to reduce Illinois’ unpaid bills would make things worse. Lawmakers want the state to borrow $4 billion from the bond market to pay down a portion of the $9 billion stack of unpaid bills.
Illinois lawmakers, addicted to borrowing and overspending, are asking for a second mortgage to pay down the state’s maxed-out credit card. Freeing up space on the credit card will just allow lawmakers to max it out again.
Lawmakers continue to argue that there is no room left to cut spending in Illinois. This is a lie. In The 2012 Illinois Piglet Book we highlight nearly 200 examples of wasteful spending totaling more than $350 million dollars.
It’s no surprise that some of the waste is rooted in bloated benefit programs for state employees. For example, Illinoisans not only have to pay state employees’ generous salaries, health insurance and retirement plans, but they also must also keep them in style.
The State Employees’ Group Insurance Program pays up to $175 of the retail cost of prescription eyeglass frames. With a $10 copayment, government employees can walk out of a store with frames sporting the Ray Ban or Oakley logo. This puts state workers in glasses that many Illinoisans couldn’t even begin to hope to afford.
And this is on top of the fact that state employees on average make 16.3 percent more than their private sector counterparts. With other benefits and little fashion perks, such as designer eyeglass frames, state employees make 23 percent more than those in the private sector.
It’s not just the state employees that are rocking designer glasses; family members covered under the state insurance plan are eligible for the same benefits. State employees and their families purchasing $175 frames on the taxpayers’ dime is a hefty price considering eyeglass frames with lenses can be purchased for as little as $8.
Further stretching the definition of insurance, state employees can keep up with the latest fashion trends by purchasing a new pair of frames every two years. A pretty sweet deal, except for those who are footing the bill. The resulting savings from rightsizing vision coverage could help state leaders see the way to a balanced budget.
See The 2012 Illinois Piglet Book for more examples wasteful government spending in Illinois.