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Our View: State’s waste robs us of real benefits

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

Gov. Pat Quinn pointed out in his State of the State speech Wednesday that the Illinois public pension system, left unreformed, “is squeezing out education, public safety, and other vital services to the tune of $17 million a day.”

$17 million a day.

That figure has been used by Quinn and his people for a while now.

$17 million a day.

It’s money taken from important programs and fed into the yawning chasm that is the debt-ridden public pension system.

In abstract terms, $17 million sounds like a pittance, compared with the almost $100 billion in unfunded contributions that the state owes the pension system.

That $17 million also sounds like a pittance compared with the $9 billion that the state owes in unpaid bills to vendors and service providers.

But let’s bring that $17 million figure closer to home.

The voter-rejected referendum in 2010 to build a bigger, better Hopkins Pool in DeKalb was for $15 million, less than a day’s worth of crowded-out spending.

Two days of that spending would be enough to cover the $24 million cost of the major expansion planned for DeKalb’s Haish Memorial Library and the $10 million upgrade to the wastewater treatment plant in Sycamore ($10 million), where residents could be facing an increase in their water and sewer bills.

The new residence halls at Northern Illinois University cost $80 million to build. It would take almost an full work week to accumulate enough money to pay that tab.

It would take less than a half day to cover the combined budget deficits expected this year in the DeKalb ($2.3 million), Sycamore ($2.6 million), and Genoa-Kingston ($1 million) school districts.

It’s also about $170 a day for every person living in DeKalb County.

To the muckety-mucks who run state government, losing $17 million a day apparently does not represent a large enough crisis to act swiftly and decisively to halt it.

Quinn set deadlines in August and again in January for the Legislature to act. Nothing happened.

Meanwhile, at $17 million a day, the pension crisis continues to squeeze money out of the state budget.

Illinois’ financial status gets worse and worse.

And state representatives, state senators and the governor continue to dither.

Why don’t they act?

That’s the $17-million-a-day question.

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