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Editorial: Illinois, one year later, falling apart by the numbers

In this Feb. 17, 2016 photo, Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, left, speaks to Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, center, while Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, right, delivers the State of the Budget Address to a joint session of the General Assembly in the House chambers at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield. (AP File Photo/Seth Perlman)

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Here’s a number for you: $8,031,269,046.06.

That’s how big a deadbeat the State of Illinois is. That’s how far behind the state was in paying its bills as of noon on Tuesday, when we started writing this editorial.

Here’s another big number: $9,634,987.

That’s how much Illinois has spent in the last year on late fees and interest for failing to pay its bills on time. Plain and stupid credit card debt.

And here’s a third big number: 60.

That’s the percentage of human service agencies surveyed by the United Way of Illinois that have had to cut back on how many people they help because they’re going broke. If the state keeps stiffing the agencies, not paying what’s owed, a third of them say they’ll likely close in the next six months.

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But numbers can be cold. Let’s make this flesh and blood. As of Thursday, Illinois will have gone a whole year without passing a budget. As a result, to cite just a few examples of the damage done, drug addicts are not getting counseling, old people with dementia are not being cared for, rape victims are not getting help. State museums have been closed. Young offenders cut loose by social service agencies are back to committing crimes. Teenagers trying to steer clear of gangs are not going to after-school programs or study centers.

Our state is crashing. Yet Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democratic-controlled Legislature can barely manage to sit in the same room and talk, let alone approve a budget that lays out reasonable expenditures and sources of revenue. They can’t even agree on a stop-gap budget for six months, both sides possibly more interested in how they can spin this crisis to their advantage in the November elections.

We have repeatedly called out Rauner for blame, especially for his cavalier disregard for Chicago. He marched into Springfield a year and a half ago vowing not to work with the opposition, but to bend them to his will. He badly miscalculated his ability to do so. Now he expresses bewilderment that the same legislative leaders he dismissed as corrupt won’t cut a deal with him.

To be clear, this is no defense of Rauner’s opponents, beginning with House Speaker Mike Madigan and, to a lesser extent, Senate President John Cullerton. For decades the Legislature, aided and abetted by governors from both parties, has given away the store in negotiations with public sector unions, allowed debt to pile up, shoved off the day of reckoning for funding pensions and approved dishonest budgets.

But it was Rauner who set the rules of this fight. He would approve no tax increase, which is essential to any honest new budget, until he got his way on specific pro-business, anti-union policy changes. He has gotten nothing. Instead, the entire state, especially Chicago, is being destroyed by Springfield’s inaction. Whatever the merits of Rauner’s “Turnaround Agenda,” he has failed politically.

On this first anniversary of no state budget, the numbers tell the story:

Our bond rating

Here’s a scary one for you: 50.

Illinois has the lowest credit rating of all 50 states, largely due to its dire financial straits, and we’re paying a big price for that.

Early this month, two credit-rating services downgraded the state’s rating, once again, shortly after which the state borrowed $550 million for construction purposes. Because of the downgrade, Illinois will pay an extra $12 million in interest on the loan, according to the Institute for Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois. If Illinois had the same credit rating it had 10 years ago, taxpayers actually would have saved $70 million.

Our roads

Here’s another scary, if imprecise, number: Tens of millions of dollars. That’s what state transportation officials say it will cost Illinois in additional expenses if some $2 billion in current road-repair work is suspended beginning Thursday. Though the state has borrowed that $550 million for roads, bridges and mass transit, the money can’t be spent until the governor and Legislature agree on a spending plan. State officials notified road-work contractors last week to be prepared to shut down as of June 30.

Our universities

How about 300? That’s the number of employees Chicago State University had to lay off on April 30. Or how about 258? That’s the number of employees, including 13 faculty members, Eastern Illinois University has had to lay off. Hiring is frozen and construction projects postponed. Or maybe 500? That’s the number of employees included in a furlough program at Western Illinois University, which also has laid off 145 employees. WIU has not filled 110 jobs that became vacant through attrition.

The irony here is that Gov. Rauner and the Legislature, desperate to keep public universities open at least through the fall — you know, past the elections — approved $600 million for higher education in April. But the damage had been done, and more will be done until state funding becomes stable. Predictability is everything.

Our pension debt

Another miserable number: $116.7 billion.

That, according to an estimate by the watchdog group Truth in Accounting, is the state’s full unfunded pension liability. As Reboot Illinois reports, when Truth in Accounting rolls in other categories of state underfunding, such as for outstanding bonds and retiree health care benefits, the state’s total debt grows to a whopping $213 billion.

Our share of the load

This might be the scariest number of all: $45,500. That’s what Truth in Accounting calculates each and every state taxpayer would have to cough up to wipe out that $213 billion in debt. As Madeleine Doubek, Sun-Times columnist and publisher of Reboot Illinois, likes to note, “That’s the full cost of a great luxury car or tuition at an Ivy League school for your kid.”

The coming tide

Say good-bye to $23 billion.

If the governor and Legislature fail to agree on some kind of budget by July 1, Comptroller Leslie Munger warns, the “hardship” to the state will “grow significantly.” The state will continue to pay most of its bills, by order of the courts and consent decrees, but some $23 billion in existing spending will disappear. That’s money earmarked for — among other worthy purposes — schools, 911 call centers, domestic violence shelters and higher education.

“Our social service network is being torn apart,” Munger has said, and “our colleges and universities are on the verge of collapse.” Businesses are cutting staff, she said, “leaving families with no way to meet their financial obligations.”

Our jobs

This brings to mind one last sad number: 2,500.

That’s the net number of jobs Illinois lost in May. And 9,100 people just stopped looking for work.

Illinois lost 1,100 manufacturing jobs in May, for a total loss of 2,200 factory jobs so far this year. That follows a loss of 6,200 factory jobs in 2015, by far the worst record of any state in the Midwest.

Where did those jobs go? Gov. Rauner is right when he says Illinois must create a more pro-business climate, and parts of his Turnaround Agenda, such as further changes to the state’s worker’s comp system, deserve consideration.

But business people dislike instability and unpredictability above all. When they don’t know the score, they leave. And after a full year without a basic budget, nobody in Illinois can claim to know the score.

Except for this: Illinois is losing.

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