Madison - St. Clair Record

Monday, September 16, 2019

Republican state senator weighs in on Illinois budget quagmire

By Christopher Knoll | Jan 13, 2017

State Sen. Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon) calls for lower taxes on businesses, reduced regulations and civil justice reforms combined with belt-tightening as the types of measures needed to get the state out of its financial straits.

He said in a recent interview that operating under a "stopgap" budget as the state did through the end of last year was like crossing a "bridge to nowhere." Instead of concentrating on fixing serious crises, legislators preferred to focus on "politics and partisanship" in the previous session, he added.

Progressive policies are causing "low workforce numbers, high unemployment and the loss of population as families, friends and neighbors move out of state," he said. 

But will a new year usher in a new spirit of cooperation?

McCarter, in speaking with the Record, said: “I think it’s extremely hard for politicians promising so much and for so long to then tell people that they will get less.”

But that shouldn't deter legislators from doing what needs to be done, he said.

“I look at it (the budget problem) like a family issue," he said. "After getting married and having kids we had to say no to a lot of things because we had to live within our means.”

McCarter said that accomplishing any true reforms in Illinois will be a herculean task because it seems as if the fiscal realities of the state have not dawned on most state legislators.

A recent state spending plan asked for almost $3.7 billion for higher education, student grants and the ever opaque area of "human resources,"  he said. As incredible as that sounded, he said, how it was to be "funded" was even more "bizarre." Proponents indicated that funding would be derived from waiving $454 million in debt incurred when the state robbed its “rainy day” fund in 2015.

Despite two years with no budget, a deficit of nearly $6 billion, an estimated $111 billion in unfunded pension obligations, a backlog of bills due totaling $7.2 billion (with interest ranging from 9 percent to 12 percent) and becoming the state with the worst credit score after Moody’s lowered the rating to Baa2, just two levels above "junk" status, a Democratic legislature asked for more spending from a Republican governor, McCarter said.

“The state can’t go bankrupt,” he said. "But systems can.”

As an example, the senator referenced the state’s pension systems. “If pensions go bankrupt, it will hurt a lot of people,” which is why he says the state has a fiduciary responsibility to say "no" once in a while.

But trimming back what is offered to new workers in order to prolong the pension system's existence is considered sacrilege by most Democrats, progressives and even some Republicans, he said.

“If state legislatures address their pensions first (taking some cuts and scaling back raises in their pay-outs) then they could effectively tackle the pension problem,” he said.    

He also said that approving a budget is not the only fix that needs to happen in the state, because as history has shown that for nearly 20 years, Illinois has consistently spent more than it takes in. Attitudes and behavior have to change.

“We know what we have to do," he said. "We’ve got some tough decisions to make."

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