Our view: The price 
of inaction

Gov. Pat Quinn pointed out in his State of the State speech Wednesday that the Illinois public pension system, left unreformed, “is squeezing out education, public safety, and other vital services to the tune of $17 million a day.”

$17 million a day.

That figure has been used by Quinn and his people for a while now.

$17 million a day.

It’s money taken from important programs and fed into the yawning chasm that is the debt-ridden public pension system.

In abstract terms, $17 million sounds like a pittance compared with the $96 billion in unfunded contributions that the state owes the pension system.

$17 million also sounds like a pittance compared with the $9 billion that the state owes in unpaid bills to vendors and service providers.

So, let’s compare that $17 million figure with something closer to home.

Depending on the week, the nonprofit Pioneer Center for Human Services says it is owed about $3 million from the state for work already performed. That $17 million would cover that bill in about 4 hours.

McHenry County College has pitched a 10-year, $278 million expansion plan. At $17 million a day, the project would be paid for in just more than two weeks.

The Crystal Lake Public Library considered a $28 million expansion plan. Yes, that would be paid for in fewer than two days.

Illinois’ state parks have a $750 million backlog of maintenance and repair costs. In 44 days, at $17 million a day, all that work could be paid for.

To the muckety-mucks who run state government, losing $17 million a day apparently does not represent a large enough crisis to act swiftly and decisively to halt it.

Quinn set deadlines in August and again in January for the Legislature to act. Nothing happened.

Meanwhile, at $17 million a day, the pension crisis continues to squeeze money out of the state budget.

Illinois’ financial status gets worse and worse.

And state representatives, state senators and the governor continue to dither.

Why don’t they act?

That’s the $17-million-a-day question.

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