Illinois Senate President Don Harmon recently sent a letter asking the federal government for a $41 billion bailout for Illinois which includes a $10 billion request to address Illinois’ pension crisis.
Harmon has been roundly ridiculed for his ridiculous request and rightfully so. Coronavirus had nothing to do with Illinois’ pension problems. Illinois’s $138 billion pension hole did not happen during the month-long coronavirus shutdown of our economy. The pension crisis in Illinois has been decades in the making.
For far too long, Illinois’s finances have been a house of cards. The true nature of the dire economic reality of the state’s finances have been masked by a robust economy and soaring stock prices. The shutdown of our economy and the collapse of the stock market has exposed not only the harsh realities of Illinois’ poor fiscal health but also the poor economic policies that have made a very bad situation far, far worse than it needs to be.
Earlier this year, the backlog of unpaid bills for the State of Illinois was just over $6 billion. Now the backlog is just under $8 billion and that number is likely to get worse the longer the shutdown of our economy continues.
COVID-19 is in some respects a metaphor for Illinois. People who are healthy and do not have pre-existing conditions have a much greater chance of overcoming COVID-19 than individuals with underlying conditions. In the same way, states going into this crisis on strong financial footing are much more capable of dealing with the financial stress the disease is causing than states like Illinois.
It is understandable that the shutdown of our economy might make it difficult for the state to pay its bills, but the problem is even more exacerbated when the state already had $6 billion in unpaid bills.
The solution to Illinois’ economic woes is not a federal bailout. The solution is long overdue structural reforms. There is no reason for taxpayers in surrounding states like Wisconsin and Indiana to have to bail out Illinois for problems they did not create, and problems Illinois’ leaders have consistently ignored. I, along with many of my colleagues, have pleaded for pension reforms, spending reforms and tax reforms. Our state leaders continue to ignore these pleas. Before we ask for a bailout – we need a good faith effort from our leaders to solve these problems. Instead all we get is more of the same policies that have allowed the decimation of our state in the face of the coronavirus crisis.