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Get Used to It: Fixing the Illinois Budget Will Be Painful PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Illinois Politics
Written by Rich Miller   
Sunday, 21 June 2009 03:13

Usually when polls are taken about tax hikes, the respondents are "informed" about the benefits of raising more government money, whether it's for education, public services, or what have you. So, not surprisingly, those polls regularly show lots of support for tax increases.

But a recent poll of 800 Illinois voters taken this month on behalf of the Illinois Coalition for Jobs, Growth, & Prosperity, a business group, only asked whether Illinoisans favored raising taxes to balance the state's budget.

Because the state is in such a deep hole, that's pretty much all any tax hike will go for anyway - and it won't even fully accomplish that. And since most people don't pay a great deal of attention to state government, that's all they probably know about the tax-hike plan anyway.

So the results probably won't surprise you.

A whopping 73 percent opposed hiking taxes to balance the budget, while only 23 percent supported the concept.

According to the poll, 82 percent of Illinoisans believe that the governor and lawmakers have not done enough to control state spending. That's also not a surprising number. Very few governments ever do "enough" to control spending.

The poll asked lots of questions about forcing someone else to bear the brunt of the multi-billion-dollar-budget-deficit nightmare this state faces.

Cut pension benefits for newly hired state workers? Seventy-two percent agreed. Force the state-employees union to reopen its contract and renegotiate pay raises? Seventy-four percent said, "Heck yes." Require unpaid furloughs for state employees? Sixty-five percent were on board. Make state workers pay more for health care? Sixty-five percent wanted it. Roll back Medicaid eligibility a bit? Seventy-two percent were for it.

The survey asked just one specific question about "shared sacrifice." Human beings tend to want somebody else to carry the load, so the answer to this question wasn't all that amazing, either.

"Would you support closing state facilities like aged prisons, state parks, [and] historic sites until the state's finances improve?" the pollster asked.

"No" was the overwhelming response. Almost three-quarters, 74 percent, said they don't want those facilities to close during the budget meltdown.

Well, too bad.

You can't come close to balancing the budget - currently estimated at $9.2 billion in the hole - even if the General Assembly enacts all the spending reforms so widely supported in that poll. It would barely make a dent.

The only real way to close that gaping hole is to do the things that three-quarters of Illinoisans don't want, and a whole lot more.

I assume that if voters were asked the same question about closing down rape-treatment centers, drug-abuse rehab facilities, scholarship funds for college students, and programs for autistic and handicapped children, the "no" responses would be even higher.

What about day care for financially strapped single mothers struggling to get on their feet? Home care for the elderly? The "no" responses would probably be off the charts.

We assume that because we live in the richest nation in the world that devastating governmental shut-downs like those listed above shouldn't happen and couldn't happen.

Unfortunately, times have changed. Gross mismanagement by Rod Blagojevich (a governor who was elected twice, by the way) and the worst economic climate since the Great Depression mean that one of two things has to happen:

(1) Those programs and facilities listed above and many, many more are going to have to be shut down; or

2) Taxes will have to be raised, and many of those programs might still have to be shuttered because the budget hole is so big.

I keep seeing newspaper editorials, columnists, and letters to the editor practically begging for some sort of magic solution to this problem. Can't something be done without raising taxes and still preserve vital programs and public facilities?

No.

You have to cut where the spending is.

There is no magic bullet. President Barack Obama has said the states aren't getting any more bailouts. Our state Constitution, which Illinois voters overwhelmingly refused to change last year, requires a balanced budget.

We're stuck.

As I write this, legislators are scheduled to return to Springfield to attempt to deal with the budget disaster. If they can't find a solution, the doomsday will be upon us. Maybe then Illinoisans will realize what "balancing a budget" is really about.

The budget, in the end, is about all of us. It's our responsibility. I just hope you don't have to find that out the hard way.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax (a daily political newsletter) and TheCapitolFaxBlog.com.


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