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Why don’t they act? The $17M- a-day question

Legislators and the governor continue to dither while an unresolved state pension funding crisis bleeds Illinois’ treasury of $17 million a day. Why don’t they do something?

Published: Friday, Feb. 8, 2013 1:15 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 to the $96 billion in unfunded contributions that the state owes the pension system.

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

So, let’s compare that $17 million figure to something closer to home.

Dixon Public School officials estimate that they will receive $700,000 less in revenue in the coming year. $17 million would fill that need 24 times over.

The Sterling Coliseum is undergoing a $4.5 million repair and renovation project. $17 million would cover that expense nearly four times over.

The new First Avenue Bridge that links Sterling and Rock Falls cost $27 million.

Rock Falls’ new wastewater treatment plant, which opened in 2011, also cost $27 million.

You take 2 days at $17 million a day, and you’d pay for that bridge, or that plant, and have $10 million left over.

Rita Crundwell, Dixon’s disgraced ex-comptroller, admitted to stealing more than $53 million from the city. In state-pension-budget-squeeze terms, that equals 3 days and a fraction of a fourth.

Illinois’ state parks, of which we have several in our region, have a $750 million backlog of maintenance and repair costs. In 44 days, at $17 million a day, all that work could be paid for.

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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