You may have missed it in the headlines last week, but independent bond rating agency Fitch announced it was giving three states a "negative" economic outlook for 2006-- Michigan, Louisiana, and Illinois.
We're a credit risk, Fitch says, because we borrow too much and haven't shown an inclination to "confront" our debt and do what it takes to pay the money back.
Michigan has been publicly bleeding manufacturing jobs in its major industry, automaking, while Louisiana is still recovering from Hurricane Katrina. Those are their excuses. And they're pretty good ones.
But Illinois' predicament isn't so excusable.
It's not attributable to Mother Nature or a few down-on-their-luck companies. Our economic woes are wholly man-made.
Our "massive underfunded pension liability," as Fitch called it, is the largest in the nation and figures to get worse over the next few years. That's because the folks we elected to deal with it seem content to pass the buck, figuring they'll be long gone by the time things really get ugly.
Ironically, this news arrived at the same very moment that state legislative leaders and Governor Rod Blagojevich were huddling in negotiations over how much more tax loot the state would spend-- and borrow-- this upcoming fiscal year. It's campaign season, you know, and there are interest groups to appease and constituencies to impress.
There's no other way to decipher why Blagojevich has called for the state to spend $1 billion more this year than it did last, while Senate President Emil Jones, Jr. (D-Chicago) is angling to give lawmakers a 10% pay raise while borrowing an additional $4.3 billion on top of the $20.3 billion we already owe.
Of course, budget deficits and state debt aren't much of a worry when your state is growing, as increased tax revenue generated by new folks and new jobs make up the difference in the long run. But Illinois isn't growing, which means the burden of our spending sins today portends massive problems for the folks responsible for paying up tomorrow.
No matter how many children Blagojevich wraps himself around to pull your heart strings, his latest and greatest programs cost money we don't have. The state's credit cards are maxed out.
Where's the leadership? It's election-year pandering, of course.
Think of that the next time our governor rolls into East St. Louis with big plans to tout. Or just wait for the tab. It will be here soon enough.