For Illinois, 2009 should have been a year of opportunity. A year to move beyond petty squabbles. A year to fix Illinois’s perennially busted budget.
In March, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn outlined an $11.6 billion budget deficit (much of which was left over from the previous year). Bold action was needed to stop the destructive habit of spending beyond our means.
Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Illinois ends calendar 2009 much in the way it ended 2008: red ink as far as the eye can see. Because those in power did not pursue the necessary reforms, we’re now facing desperate temporary borrowing schemes to tide us through to tomorrow.
Looking ahead, the total deficit for next year is estimated at $12.6 billion – again, partially made up from the rollover of unpaid debt from previous years.
It didn’t have to be this way. Illinois could have taken concrete steps to cut costs this year, and it could have proactively introduced reforms to ensure that future budgets would stay under control.
Here are 15 policy steps would have put Illinois’s budget on firmer footing. For a more detailed listing, download the full report.
Adopting the cost-cutting suggestions of Governor Pat Quinn’s Taxpayer Action Board.
Passing the Illinois Efficient Government Act.
Developing a comprehensive inventory of state assets that can be sold or leased.
Renegotiating public employee contracts.
Advancing Medicaid delivery reform.
Reviewing local revenue sharing.
Appointing and empowering a Sunshine Commission.
Avoiding new spending boondoggles.
Reforming Illinois’s public pension system.
Do away with barriers to business.
Protecting taxpayers with a supermajority requirement vote for higher taxes and fees.
Implementing spending prioritization.
Promoting choice in education.
Putting an expenditure limit in place.
Stop thinking that government is always the solution.
The Taxpayer Action Board got it right: Illinois’s budget problems “now are of such a magnitude that only large-scale, fundamental rethinking of state government will solve them.” Business as usual isn’t going to cut it anymore.
2009 is drawing to a close, and too many avenues for spending reform went untraveled. The good news is that Illinois’s leaders can still pursue many of these opportunities in 2010. Next year has the potential to be a game-changer for our state’s fiscal future. Illinois deserves leaders who will make the necessary decisions to put Illinois on a brighter path.