Originally published in New Ground 128.2, email edition 02.15.2010.
by Bob Roman
New Ground has been among those predicting disaster because of the ongoing failure of responsible political leadership in Illinois. (There’s more, but most recently New Ground 127 and New Ground 126.2.) Illinois is not unique, of course. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) has issued a report that most states are suffering a shortfall in revenues. Even accounting for efforts to close the gap, CBPP anticipates the shortfall for 2010 and 2011 to total something on the order of $350,000,000,000 nation-wide.
Illinois’ $14.3 billion deficit is not the worst. In absolute terms California, Arizona, and New York are larger. Expressed as a percentage of the state’s general fund, Illinois is still in the runner-up position, Nevada rising to #3, but the deficit for Illinois still amounts to 40.9% of the general fund budget. If you need any indication that “cutting waste” and promoting “efficiency” are nothing more than weasel words for doing nothing, these facts should be that.
In a recession or depression, deficit spending is not a bad thing. But Illinois and the other states can’t print money, and like most states Illinois is required have a balanced budget, or at least something it can pretend is balanced. Thus the deficit is paid for by simply not paying outstanding bills, looting special funds, and other such accounting tricks. The tricks work for a while, too. Then you cut services and lay off workers. None of these are good policy, especially in a recession or depression.
The Progressive States Network is circulating a sign-on letter for state legislators to urge the President and Congress to move swiftly on job creation and state fiscal relief. There’s also a tool citizens can use to urge their state legislators to sign on. While Federal assistance is needed in the short term, the Progressive States Network argues that the fiscal crisis is in large part a result of a failure of politics, that the crisis can be solved and the anti-tax movement is mostly a failure. (Indeed, Arizona is #2 on the fiscal failure list in large part because, unlike most other states, the conservatives have had their way with the state’s finances.)