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Reeder: Plenty of fat in state govt. budget

Published: Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014 11:16 p.m. CDT

SPRINGFIELD – My daughter tugged on my hand and said, “Come on Dad let’s see the Butter Cow.”

So we walked over to the Dairy Building at the Illinois State Fair and gawked at 500 pounds of butter sculpted into the shape of a life-size cow.  

I couldn’t help but think what a perfect illustration this is of Illinois state government. 

Where else but Springfield would a shrine be generated out of fat?

Just about everyone – except the bureaucrats – sees fat in Illinois government.

But little of the fat ever gets trimmed. At a time when the state is paying its bills months late, the Land of Lincoln provides free cable TV to its prison inmates.

Yep, you read that right.

When I first mentioned this incarceration perk a couple of years ago, a Rock Island woman wrote me and said, “God has hardened your heart” toward inmates. 

Sorry, I think inmates should be treated humanely. But cable TV? No way. 

My tax bill hardened my heart, not God.

While the money for the cable TV comes from funds raised from inmate commissaries, the legislature could divert it to pay for more worthwhile endeavors. 

The legislature also is to blame for those lavish doors on the Illinois Capitol. It spent about $670,000 for a set of six on the west side of the statehouse.

The bureaucrats jumped to the defense, saying you can’t just got to Menards and buy doors for a building as ornate as the statehouse. No, but there are plenty of carpenters out there who could make respectable doors for less than 100 grand a pop. 

When I hear politicians say they don’t see much waste in the budget, I have to roll my eyes. It’s not like there is a line item in the budget labeled “waste” that can just be cut.

Budgets need careful deliberation and debate, but our legislature often votes on the budget within hours of actually seeing the document.

Most folks give their household spending more thought than lawmakers give our state’s multibillion dollar budget.

How else can we account for programs like “urban fishing”? The state and federal government fund a program that teaches city kids how to fish. 

Is that really a core state service? At a time when the state pays its bills late, can we really justify this program? 

My dad and grandpa taught me how to fish. 

Or look no further than the Illinois Medicaid system for more evidence of our bloated bureaucracy. Recent state-funded audits have found 60 percent of enrollees in the program do not meet income guidelines or other eligibility rules.

Yet these people were able to collect benefits. That’s government waste at its worst. 

A push is now afoot to make the temporary 67 percent income tax increase permanent. How can lawmakers even consider raising taxes when so much waste goes unaddressed?  

• Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and a journalist with Illinois News Network, a project of the Illinois Policy Institute. He can be reached at sreeder@illinoispolicy.org, or follow his work on Twitter @ScottReeder.

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