Ask any company who contracts with the state of Illinois to provide services, whether they are construction, medical or social, and those companies will tell you that the state no longer has the money to pay its accumulating debt. Every week some of these companies have to shut down or reduce the services that they provide as they wait for long over-due payments from the state. Illinois may not be as insolvent as Detroit, which recently became the largest U.S. city to file for bankruptcy protection, but it is fast approaching the point where the couch cushions in every state office will have to be checked for lost change just to pay the over-due bills.
Remarkably, the state still has the time, money and resources to have its' employees work on meaningless and unnecessary projects. Recently I was surprised to see two large Illinois Department of Transportation trucks stop on the side of state route 6 outside of the small town of Morris.
In just under twenty minutes it took these two heavy duty diesel trucks and three people to first replace a perfectly functional road sign marking an up-coming intersection with an identical and perfectly functional road sign. The state employees then drove the trucks two hundred feet up the road and replaced a perfectly functional street sign with yet another perfectly functional and identical street sign. They might have been able to do this in significantly less time if more than one of them had been working at any given time.
To the average person this may sound like a stereo-type or cliché and that is what makes it more troubling. If a random sample of employees is observed working on unnecessary projects like this outside one small unimportant town, what other wasteful projects are going on statewide? Who is approving them, and when the state has no money to pay its current bills, why is this being allowed?
In a state crippled by employee pension debt and a higher than average unemployment rate, the state's elected officials and its employees have an obligation to diligently work to reduce spending, cut unnecessary projects and use the available resources to fund only the most important and needed programs. In return for electing and employing them, the citizens of Illinois have a right to expect that their state officials and employees will work in the most productive and cost efficient manner possible.
To the rest of the nation and a large portion of the world, Illinois has become a political joke. Two of its' last three governors have gone to prison and political corruption runs rampant throughout the state. Jesse Jackson Jr., a former Illinois representative in the U. S. House of Representatives, and his wife Sandy Jackson, a former Chicago alderwoman are both awaiting their prison sentencing for the misuse of political funds, including the purchase of some of pop star Michael Jackson's personal items, and numerous local politicians within the state have be convicted of crimes ranging from embezzlement to accepting bribes.
As the rest of the country looks on, Illinois' political parties simply point their fingers at each other and blame anyone and anything other than themselves for the state's money problems. At the legislative level, it appears that nobody wants to take any steps to solve any of the state's financial problems. The largest one of these problems, unfunded pension debt for retired state employees is costing the tax payers of Illinois almost seventeen million dollars a day in interest alone.
In an attempt to both force the state legislature to develop a resolution to the employee pension issue and gain voter support in the upcoming gubernatorial election, Governor Pat Quinn recently ordered that the salaries of state law makers, including himself, be withheld until state legislators reach a solution. Instead of coming together to fix the problem, members of the state legislature came together to file suit against Governor Quinn, claiming that he did not have the authority to alter or interfere with their salaries.
Are the actions of low level state employees related in any way to the actions of the state's elected officials? At first glance the answer may appear to be no, but look more closely at the situation and it becomes obvious that there are more similarities than differences. At every level of Illinois government, officials have been using their positions not to serve and better the state but to serve the wants and desires of themselves and their constituents. For years, the elected leaders of the state have been spending money like a college student with their first credit card, borrowing and over-spending to create voter favorable programs, always with the intent of winning the next election.
Now there is no more money to shuffle around and nowhere to affordably borrow it from. So where does the money come from? State legislators don't want to support tax increases, that would be political suicide and nobody wants to suggest cutting state programs that affect citizens in their district because that might disgruntle voters. Another option, the reduction of wasteful spending, sounds nice politically but should have been in practice from the beginning. Do three people really need to be driving around in gas guzzling vehicles replacing signs that don't need replacing?
If these three options aren't politically viable maybe the state could try operating within its means. People all over the world have been doing it for generations. When most people have one dollar to spend, they only spend one dollar. They don't spend five dollars and then tell their employers that they are going to need more money because they over-spent making themselves popular and their family happy. Of course most people aren't politicians.
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