When Governor Pat Quinn presented his budget address to the General Assembly last week, he said: "Illinois is staggering to pay an $11.5 billion deficit and has a mountain of unpaid bills. Illinois' economy is falling. Unemployment is rising, and our people are hurting. To be direct and honest - our state is facing the greatest crisis of modern times."
Although this was a sobering message, Gov. Quinn's no-nonsense assessment of the state's condition was a welcome contrast to the former governor who refused to acknowledge our growing structural budget problems.
Although I will not commit to any increase in fees or taxes unless they are coupled with genuine reforms in the way we manage the state's business, we do have a constitutional mandate to pass a balanced budget. It's most unfortunate that we have to fill this huge budget hole exactly at the same time that the national economy is reaping havoc on families and businesses.
In the past few months, I sent surveys to seek your opinion on various public policy issues facing the state. Today, I believe we have questions to ask and research to conduct in order for any of us to make informed decisions on these tough issues. These are some key questions:
How was the budget deficit calculated? How much are bills we already owe?
Which budget items or programs can be eliminated, reduced or postponed until the economy improves?
How much is Illinois receiving from the federal economic stimulus plan? How much is available to fill our budget deficit versus "shovel-ready" construction projects?
If we have federal dollars for "shovel-ready" construction projects, do we also need a state capital plan this year?
How have the revenue projections been affected by this economic downturn?
Are there alternatives to the income tax to fill the budget hole? While our 3% flat rate income tax is the lowest in the nation, how does the total tax burden for families and corporations -- including sales and property taxes - compare to other states?
What are the short-term and long-term impacts of pension reforms? How do public pensions in Illinois compare to other states?
These are complex issues, but we are short on time and a repeat of the doomsday budget scenarios we've endured for the past four years is unacceptable to me. There are too many people who depend on state government for us to put off difficult decisions until the last minute. Of course, none of the solutions will be painless.
I am interested in hearing from you, especially if you have answers to any of these questions or ideas for other questions we must ask. If you were forwarded this message, or you're not sure you're not on my list, please complete this form. And, because I would like to get as much input as possible, please pass the word along about my updates.
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