Illinois lawmakers were in disarray Thursday as they groped for stopgap measures to address a $13 billion deficit equaling nearly half of the state’s general-fund revenue.
The state faces one of the nation’s worst budget crises, spilled over in part from the broader national economic crunch, and its current bond ratings lag only California’s. But the confusion in the legislature indicates that serious steps to fix state finances won’t be taken until after the November elections—if then.
Most states have addressed or still face gaps in their budgets totaling $196 billion for fiscal year 2010, while tax revenue declined in the final quarter of 2009 in 39 of the states for which data is available.
Illinois lawmakers have little appetite for drastic spending cuts. An income-tax increase proposed by Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn is going nowhere. Even temporary steps, such as borrowing to make pension payments, have stalled. Illinois is months late on many of its bills and has no plan for catching up.
The legislature may push the problem to the governor’s office by granting Mr. Quinn emergency budget powers and adjourning Friday, about three weeks earlier than usual. A bill under consideration in the state House would give Mr. Quinn greater leeway to shift money among state funds and to require agencies to set aside part of their budgets now in case of future cuts.
Illinois is a paradigmatic victim of what Fox Business Network anchor Stuart Varney describes as the collapsing European socialist model (“high taxes, cradle-to-grave entitlements, government dominating the economy”). The Prarie State’s Democratic machine has enjoyed a stranglehold on governance for years, with powerful labor and public sector unions lobbying heavily for each irresponsible step along the way. But the current crisis generated by hideous mismanagement may allow an enervated state GOP to make substantial gains in November, and has driven unions to the point of self-parody.