It's time to take a step back and examine the proverbial Illinois state government forest as well as its individual trees.
In the past week or so, we carried a series of separate state government stories: The state's pension crisis likely will not be addressed until after the November election. (Recall that Illinois has the worst pension funding gap in the nation at $83 billion.) Then came an item that a retired judge filed suit to keep his free health care benefits from Illinois. And then came the news that Illinois officials are proceeding with plans to borrow $1.6 billion to keep working on road projects. On that same day, the Daily Herald carried a report that five-plus years into the Great Recession, the state's unemployment office now will check to see if prisoners might be collecting unemployment illegally. And, yes, early indications are that many have been doing just that.
See the trees? See the forest? Yes, it looks to us, too, like we have a full-fledged state financial wildfire burning.
Gov. Pat Quinn did sign into law last month a measure to begin charging some state retirees for health insurance. That prompted a retired judge to object and seek to make his suit a class action on behalf of all retirees. We've said repeatedly that most private sector workers pay for part of their health insurance costs. We hope the judge rethinks his move. If not, we strongly encourage Quinn to defend this law.
We also call upon Quinn, again, to compel legislative leaders to continue meeting, weekly, to hammer out a responsible compromise to the frightening pension crisis.
Illinois' status as a deadbeat government that doesn't pay its bills remotely on time also is not a new development. It continues to grow as all manner of people who do business with the state and provide it services wait, sometimes for many months or more, for payment for their goods and services.
And yet, the state is again going to borrow $1.6 billion for road projects? Yes, Illinois needs to maintain the infrastructure that makes our state go. These are complex problems. But this repeated reliance on borrowing money we don't have has to stop sometime. Indeed, it is partly how the pension and state debt problems were created. Illinois borrowed and put off bills and pension payment contributions. State officials got used to having services and spending levels taxpayers couldn't really afford. At some point, we have to quit adding to the debt and start paying it off.
For that reason, it is good to hear state officials are checking to see if some people are collecting unemployment checks illegally. And the state soon will hire outside help to find those who collect Medicaid benefits but do not qualify. But, really, shouldn't that have been done years ago?
The Illinois government forest fire rages. Who will fight it? Where's the alarm?