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Our View: Quinn budget underlines pension mess

Updated: April 8, 2013 7:50AM



Gov. Pat Quinn presented his proposed 2013-14 state budget on Wednesday, a $35.6 billion spending plan that’s 3 percent more than the current one but contains a lot less money for local schools and higher education.

It’s not what a governor typically suggests heading into an election year. Quinn’s plan doesn’t have any goodies salted away for various constituencies and directs all of the extra expenditures for pension costs that gobble up more of the budget each year. The pension bill will rise by about $900 million to $6 billion, while spending on public education declines by about $400 million, the third straight year of cuts.

The plan calls for no major tax or fee increases, but Quinn wants to close some corporate tax loopholes and seemed optimistic that a gambling expansion bill might finally be approved — proposing that any extra gambling revenue go for public education and teacher pensions.

Quinn’s budgeting is an exercise in placing the right number of deck chairs on the starboard side of the Titanic as the port. But what difference does such delicate fiscal balancing make unless someone fixes that big hole under the water?

Polls show Quinn is the most unpopular governor in the country, and he’s sure to face opposition within his party for re-election. That may explain why he sees better chances for a gambling bill, which would deliver Chicago’s long-sought casino and give Mayor Rahm Emanuel more reason to like him. The governor needs all the friends he can muster, especially powerful ones in the Democratic Party.

But even with gambling expansion, the fundamental problem with Illinois’ spending, its burgeoning pension costs, has not been remedied. The new budget looks uncomfortably like the existing one. If legislators still can’t agree on how to trim the pension systems’ long-term funding shortfall, there’s more fiscal misery in store for taxpayers.

Pension obligations take up about 20 percent of the state budget now. That’s a real problem. In five years, it’ll be nearly 40 percent. That’s a catastrophe. As Quinn asked legislators in his budget speech, “what are you waiting for?”



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