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Reeder: Feds not alone with a government shutdown

Updated: November 10, 2013 6:17AM



Since the federal government “shutdown” began a few days ago, some liberal folks I know have been making a lot of noise and expressing great concern.

To hear some of them talk, the apocalypse is upon us. Funny, I haven’t noticed much different.

A friend working overseas is steamed that college football games won’t be broadcast on Armed Forces Radio. But for the most part, critical services are still being provided as politicians in both political parties posture and point fingers at each other.

I only wish that could be said for the state of Illinois.

You see, the Land of Lincoln has been slowly shutting down over the last decade because of fiscal mismanagement and overspending.

And unlike the federal government’s “partial shutdown,” people other than government workers are actually getting hurt here.

Our state prisons are overcrowded and dangerous.

Our governor’s response? Close some prisons and pack inmates into fewer prisons.

The super-maximum security prison at Tamms has gone dark. And now the most dangerous prisoners in the system are interspersed with less violent inmates.

The women’s prison in Dwight closed despite women being a fast-growing prison population.

Two homes for the mentally disabled and two more for the mentally ill have shut their doors or are in the process of closing.

This is an embarrassment. There are core government functions that must go on.

Incarcerating criminals is one of them. Another is caring for low-income disabled people who have nowhere else to go.

But instead of focusing on basic services such as these, the state has been on a spending spree.

Government worker pensions gobble up larger and larger portions of the state budget each year. About $6 billion (17 percent) of the state operating budget now goes to pensions.

While politicians give the matter a lot of talk, we have yet to see comprehensive pension reform. As a result, the state’s growing pension obligation is squeezing out some of the most basic state services.

Escalating Medicaid costs also are putting the squeeze on the state budget. The state’s response has been to expand the number of people eligible for Medicaid rather than contract it.

And our Medicaid woes don’t end there.

In fact, about 35 percent of all Illinois physicians don’t take new Medicaid patients, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Illinois is the eighth-worst state in that regard.

The Prairie State’s “shutdown” of core services has happened because of continued government overspending.

Of course, few people are actually calling it a “shutdown.” But that’s what’s happening. State government is failing its citizens.

Bills to vendors go unpaid. Medicaid patients are turned away. Prisons are closed. Mental facilities are shuttered.

It’s a government shutdown in all but name.

Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and the journalist-in-residence at the Illinois Policy Institute, a nonprofit research group that supports the free market and limited government.



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