Overstating the state of the state

CHICAGO—The state of the State of Illinois is not as rosy as Gov. Jim Edgar claimed in his speech to the General Assembly in January. To begin with, Illinois has received serious warnings about its financial condition from two respected sources:

Last September, Richard Mattoon, senior economist for the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank, found that of five Midwestern states, Illinois was the most fiscally unstable, with little in cash reserves to meet downturns. In the past five years, Moody’s Investor Services has lowered the state’s bond rating three times and Standard and Poor’s has lowered it twice.

The University of Illinois’ Institute of Government and Public Affairs recently warned that the state has a “structural deficit” because state expenses are increasing at the rate of 2 percent per year, while income is increasing at only 1 percent. This means that by current spending levels, the yearly deficit will equal 10 percent of the budget by the year 2005.

This financial stress is occurring at a time when the unmet needs of Illinois are increasing:

Education: Under Gov. Edgar, the state pays less for primary and secondary education, as a share of the total budget, than it did five years ago. It has continued to push school funding onto the overburdened property-tax system. In 1990 the state paid 38 percent of education funding, but between the 1994 and 1995 school years, this was reduced to 32 percent. During the same period, the property-tax share of educational spending rose from 55 to 59 percent.

Housing: The governor’s upbeat speech did not address affordable housing for Illinois residents. In 1995 Illinois was 46th out of 50 states in affordable housing availability, according to the American Housing Survey.

Social services: The numbers of abused children, elderly people in need, disabled persons and schoolchildren are growing every year. The governor plans to combine seven state agencies into one mega-bureaucracy for better efficiency. Is his intention to further cut social-service spending or to use money more efficiently to serve the state’s unmet needs?

The homeless: According to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, there are approximately 100,000 homeless people in Illinois, including 20,000 youth. The state has allocated only $1.9 million annually to fund resources for homeless youth—an average of about $100 per teenager

Jobs: There are four job-seekers in Illinois for every available entry-level job. In Chicago, the job gap is 6-1. Edgar proposes that people on welfare get jobs. But what is his plan to increase employment? Where are his programs to promote job creation in the state?

In recent weeks, the Tribune called upon Edgar to put the state’s finances on track by simultaneously increasing the state income tax for schools and reforming the property tax.

Gov. Edgar can lead, or he can continue to hide behind his public-relations apparatus. Every year’s delay in solving our funding problems drives the state deeper into debt—depriving our children of the education and services they deserve, limiting their opportunities, making our state less competitive and creating more long-term poverty.

David Orr
Cook County Clerk

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