Last week, state Comptroller Dan Hynes reported that the backlog of state bills has reached over $4 billion. Several vendors have threatened to stop providing services to the state if they cannot be paid on timely basis. Many Medicaid patients are finding fewer and fewer providers are willing to give them health care. Illinois is in a full-blown fiscal crisis that puts IndyMac to shame.
In the wake of this crisis, only two solutions are presented: to unleash draconian cuts to essential human services spending or massive tax increases in the wake of the largest global economic downturn in decades. There is apparently not a dime of waste in the state budget. There isnâ€™t even any money spent on corrupt purposes to be cut. Yeahâ€¦ and Iâ€™m a Chinese fighter pilot.
The fact is the state has been wasting money for decades. Remember the Loop Lab School that got a special $1 million check from the governor? What about the $25,000 checks from Sen. Hendon for educational programs that didnâ€™t exist? And then there are the legislative pay increases. But that doesnâ€™t even scratch the surface of the waste, fraud and corruption that permeates the closed-door budget process.
Earlier this year, Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act request on $2 billion worth of spending. This spending was the â€œmember initiativeâ€ (basically Illinoisâ€™ equivalent of earmarks) spending of just the Senate Democrats. The interesting part of this request wasnâ€™t that there was $2 billion in spending on â€œpet projectsâ€ but that the Illinois Senate and the state government refused to disclose what this money was spent on.
In a parting stiff arm to the taxpayers of Illinois, Senate President Emil Jones not only refused to disclose what the member initiative money was spent on, but he even outright rejected the Freedom of Information Act request. If you thought the Freedom of Information Act was supposed to allow taxpayers to find out what government officials were doing with their tax dollars, apparently you are mistaken.
What does this have to do with the backlog of bills? Everything. Each and every year the legislature wastes billions one these special member initiatives. In some cases they even hide those expenditures from the voters. This little 2 billion adventure in wasteful spending would cut our backlog of bills in half the first year. In two years, the backlog would be gone.
More importantly, it shines the light on the real problem, that is the legislature and governor who have pushed through unbalanced budgets each and every year with the problem coming to a head now. They may try to blame the economic downturn, but the reality is that after years of deficit spending, eventually the chickens come home to roost.
Governor Blagojevich, for his part, has done well in pump-priming the idea that any budget cut would result in drastic cuts to essential human services. He close state parks even though it would require forfeiting federal funds and provide only a meager savings to the state funds. He cut alcohol and substance abuse treatment programs. Never has he tried to actually cut the spending glut due to corruption or waste.
Politically, this means that taxpayers can expect a large tax increase to be proposed as the â€œonly solutionâ€ out of this fiscal mess when the General Assembly convenes in January. It is time that voters and taxpayers stand up and demand that wasteful and corrupt â€œmember initiativesâ€ by cut, wasteful and duplicate programs be eliminated and empowering the stateâ€™s Auditor General to seek out and find where Enron-style book-keeping is occurring in the state government.
The emerging financial crisis of both unpaid bills and an inability to craft a balanced budget has been a long time coming. It is time for the General Assembly to learn to tighten their belt before they tax even more families into foreclosure or poverty.
John Bambenek is a freelance columnist and author. He is the author of Illinois Deserves Better and is an information security professional, part of the Internet Storm Center and a courseware author and certification grader for the GIAC family of security certifications. He blogs at Part-Time Pundit and is the executive director of The Tumaini Foundation which helps AIDS orphans and other children in Tanzania to get an education.