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TBH (To Be Honest) The Real Reason Illinois Can't Properly Fund Vital Services

It’s been over a week since I wrote a blog entry, and wanted to make up for lost time with coverage of the most significant issue we face as communities and as a state – our current financial crisis. 

This crisis has gotten significantly worse since Governor Rauner took office and held resources hostage to forward his political agenda.  But it certainly didn’t start with him. Illinois’ financial crisis is what it is due to decades of mismanagement in both the executive and legislative branches of our government.

My twelve-year-old daughter says TBH (or To Be Honest) a lot these days.  Apparently, it’s an app for teenagers - one of many I don’t really “get” - but a sentiment that is so relevant to this conversation.

Why would I, as a candidate for state office, want to bring attention to the most difficult and seemingly insurmountable problem we face? Two reasons:

1) I believe the first responsibility of a public servant is to inform and engage the community, especially around our most intractable problems

2) We will never be able to fund the best services we can for those who need it most if we don’t face this issue head-on.

Let’s start TBH about the financial quagmire we are in as a state. 

Here are the honest facts:

  • In FY2016, Illinois brought in $30.37 Billion in taxes to the state.
  • We immediately had to set aside $12 Billion of that funding to repay long-term debt and pension contributions due to past mismanagement and lack of funding for pensions.
  • This left $18.3 Billion from which we had to pay off $6 Billion in our accumulated deficit from just the previous year (FY2015)

So let’s stop right here.  We now have $18 Billion out of $30.37 Billion in revenue going to debt and pension commitments from the outset.  That’s 60% of our total revenue out the door before one service has been provided, one school funded or one healthcare bill paid.

We then set a budget of $21.7 in General Fund spending for all early childhood, k-12 education, higher education, healthcare, human services and public safety (this being a reduction from 27.5 B in FY2009), which puts us at 39th in the nation for General Funding spending on services as a share of GDP.  As a former management consultant in identifying cost efficiencies, I am sure we can be more efficient and effective with our services. Clearly, that alone is not going to solve this problem. 

Result

Fast forward to FY2018, when we finally have a “balanced” budget after 2+ years without a budget at all.  Our annual deficit from General Fund spending alone has now ballooned to $16B, and we still are spending less on services than we did in 2000 when you adjust for inflation and population growth.

Takeaway

Illinois cannot continue to function with a system that uses less than half of your tax dollars to fund services for you. When we underfund and dismantle public education, our public colleges/universities, health care and other critical services, we dismantle our economy and bankrupt our children’s’ futures.   But, unless we all understand and acknowledge these truths, we will not have the will or momentum to make the changes needed to set a better course. 

So TBH (To Be Honest) is where we start.

 


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