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The Illinois state budget: How did we get here?

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As Illinois Governor Pat Quinn prepares for his state budget address next Wednesday, we’ve been working on a series of state budget stories and conversations for Eight Forty-Eight. When we talked in our story meeting last week about finding an expert to tell us how the state of Illinois ended up in such a fiscal mess, it seemed just a bit too obvious. I mean, we’ve had this conversation hundreds of time before, haven’t we? Okay, maybe not hundreds... and maybe not this conversation exactly, but it has come in bits and pieces over the years--at least since 2007, when we took the show on the road to one of many recent legislative OT spring sessions. (That was one of my all-time favorite Eight Forty-Eights, by the way--my first visit to Springfield! I highly recommend a “horseshoe.”) So, anyway, I volunteered to cull all those conversations--not an easy task, because we’ve talked a lot about the state budget on the show. But I found a few that get to answering that question of how the heck did the state end up so deep in the red? First off, a controversial one: insufficient revenue. Governor Quinn and lots of Democrats have over the years argued that the state just needs more incoming cash. That could come in the form of tax increases--income or gross receipts, anyone? Gambling is also a popular one. In our recent “State of Your State” call-in, University of Illinois economist J. Fred Giertz talks a bit about the need for revenue and how we got here in general.‚ Let the audio load, then scroll to around 11 - 12 minutes in to get to the meat of his argument. Republican House Leader Tom Cross is less sure about the need for additional revenue. He alludes to that (but seems to signify a willingness to consider new revenue sources) in this conversation about last summer’s budget vote. Meanwhile, Ralph Martire of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability echoes Cross’s caution that not all cuts are good cuts in a 2007 conversation about Governor Rod Blagojevich’s ideas for slashing the budget. Next up, another contested issue: underfunded pensions. You’ll hear that in Giertz as well, but Laurence Msall is the guy to talk about pensions, and what he says is the need for reform. Unions like AFSCME have some problems with proposed reforms and rather like the idea of increasing revenue--as in this conversation debating the issue. Lastly, something pretty much everyone can agree on: political infighting. You might think that in a state where the same party has been in power in both the Executive and Legislative branches of government for almost eight years, there would be some agreement on a way forward. But eight years is nothing, says political scientist Kent Redfield. In this conversation, he talks about the long roots of Illinois’ political culture, stretching back decades to explain why it’s so hard to get stuff done in this state. That’s the roundup. Do you have other thoughts on how Illinois got to this dire financial state? Leave a comment below.
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