It seems that the citizens of Illinois are being presented with only two choices in terms of state budget policy: massive tax increases or draconian cuts that close schools and toss the developmentally disabled out on their ear. I reject, categorically, the notion that these are the only options available - to accept that premise ignores what we Americans are all about: using creativity, hard work, and good old fashioned Yankee ingenuity to solve the unsolvable!
In that vein, over the last year and a half I’ve kept a list of every idea put forward by citizens, elected democrats and republicans, business groups, trade unions – anyone who had an idea that could help solve the problem (including several of my own). In May, I put all of these into a presentation on the state budget that I’ve delivered throughout the summer and into the fall everywhere from school districts, town halls, and Rotaries, to groups traditionally on the left (like campus faculty) and the Tea parties on the right.
While the presentation takes about 45 minutes, I’ve collapsed the details into broad categories and provide specific examples of each below. But, first, we need to define terms as there is a HUGE difference between debt (unpaid bills for services already rendered) and deficits (projected future expenses exceeding projected revenues). For convenience, these are often combined together; however, they are two fundamentally and functionally different things. Back in the early spring, the Governor’s budget director estimated a $7 billion anticipated deficit for the next fiscal year and ending the current year with $6 billion in unpaid bills (combining these is where you get the $13 billion figured reported in the media). Since then, however, the numbers have moved a little bit with a new target for the deficit of $6 billion.
Understanding the debt/deficit difference is critical because by “dividing the question” and eliminating the true deficit first, you immediately gain two advantages: first, you stop adding to the backlog of unpaid bills (debt) – you’ve got to stop digging the hole before you can climb out. Second, once you solve the deficit, state vendors, schools, universities, etc. will start receiving regular payments again – helping to stabilize their cash positions.
So here are some options to fix the mess:
1. Stop digging the hole – no new spending! Seems simple right? When you’re broke you don’t buy a new car. Amazingly, Springfield can’t get this right. The same week school districts laid off 15,000 teachers because Illinois doesn’t pay its bills, almost $65 million on NEW programs were authorized (like $3.5 million to, I kid you not, “Grow Our Own Teachers” in Illinois). Conservatively, the “nothing new” approach shaves $300 million off the deficit.
2. Eliminate fraud and waste in welfare. A recent whitepaper suggests that anywhere from 10-30% of welfare is fraudulent – splitting the difference at 20% would save the taxpayers $1.5 billion! Importantly, in a bad economy by eliminating those who “game” the system, we preserve our ability to actually help those who are truly down on their luck. These changes don’t have to be hard to implement or expensive: here are a few that I introduced in the spring session:
a. HB 6137 – would require a Photo ID of the authorized user to be on Linkcards (food stamps) - so they can’t be traded for drugs/cash.
b. HB 6146 – would suspend welfare for those with POSITIVE drug tests and are not in drug treatment. Stop and think about this for a minute: enabling addiction by providing a steady stream of taxpayer cash with which to buy drugs is neither good for the taxpayer nor healthy for the person caught in a cycle of addiction. Moreover, the money that is being fraudulently wasted on getting the addict’s “next fix” would be far better spent paying our state’s drug treatment providers who are trying to help individuals break their own cycle of addiction.
c. HB 6139/6140 – would suspend the Link cards and drivers licenses of those with outstanding criminal warrants. Why should you as a taxpayer be subsidizing a fugitive as he flees the sheriff?
d. Managed Care for Medicaid – this has the potential to save $300 million or more. It is important that this be done right, however, as some population groups, like the developmentally disabled, should not be included as this model does not adequately address their lifetime continuity of care and therapy related issues.
Rep. Rose's budget fix suggestions will continue with Part 2 Saturday on Illinois Review ... Constructive comments welcomed below.