While everyone focuses on the very real budget problems in California, another major state is about to go under.
To become solvent, the state must enact the largest tax-increase package in Illinois history, whack another $2 billion from already starved government programs and wrest major financial concessions from the state's unionized work force, a nonpartisan government watchdog contends.
In a new analysis of Illinois' "horrific" finances, the Civic Federation lays out the painful choices awaiting Gov. Quinn and the Legislature as they stare down an epic $12.8 billion budget deficit that has choked the flow of state cash to public universities and schools, transit systems and social-service agencies to the point of economic collapse.
"Doomsday is here for the State of Illinois," said Laurence Msall, the organization's president.
The Civic Federation recommends that the state income tax be increased from 3 percent to 5 percent for individuals, that retirees' pension and Social Security checks be taxed for the first time at the same rate as workers' paychecks, and the tax on cigarettes be raised by another $1 per pack. The group also favors getting rid of $181 million in corporate tax breaks.
Those tax increases, which would generate more than $8 billion, should come only if the state first can persuade its unionized employees to pay more toward their pensions and health care, cut pension benefits for new workers and reduce overall spending by $2.1 billion to 2007 levels. Medicaid programs and elementary and secondary schools would be spared from those cuts to avoid sacrificing federal stimulus dollars, Msall said.
It isn't just California (which has a $20 Billion deficit that it has no clue how to close) and Illinois. Arizona, Nevada, and New Jersey, just to name a few, are also in a serious mess.