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Lawmakers fail to set priorities and spend less

‘Waste not, want not’ is ignored by state leaders

Published: Friday, March 1, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

No sooner did the poll come out than the political pundits started dismissing its results.

Fifty-five percent of all Illinoisans believe the state’s budget woes can be solved by eliminating waste and inefficiency.

This number comes from a new poll released by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute.

A long time ago, I figured out that one person’s worthy program is another’s example of waste.

But there isn’t a line item in the budget labeled “waste” that can just be cut.

Eliminating unnecessary spending means making tough decisions and determining what are essential government programs.

For example, last week the state announced that it had acquired 547 acres at $2.8 million to provide more public land for hunters, anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts.

I love the outdoors. I grew up hunting, and I take my daughters fishing and walk my St. Bernard dog in the country several days a week.

But I have to ask, Is this the best way to spend money in a financial crisis?

Most of this $2.8 million went to provide a place for deer hunting in Pike County.

“Pike County is a tremendous deer hunting destination with virtually no public access. This acquisition will give hunters an opportunity to pursue white-tails in Illinois’ deer capital,” said Marc Miller, director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Miller didn’t say it, but Pike County is an incredibly beautiful part of the state. And guess what? It became the deer-hunting capital of Illinois without the government buying up land there. Local entrepreneurs made their land open to hunters.

But regardless, I still have to ask, Is this the best way to be spending money right now?

“Should a family that can’t pay its light bill go out and buy a vacant lot?” said state Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon.

“Well, that’s essentially what the state of Illinois is doing when it spends its money on land for hunting. It looks to me like the state has its priorities all messed up.”

Folks will undoubtedly say that the $2.8 million the state spent on this land acquisition is “just peanuts” compared with the overall size of Illinois’ economic woes.

And state officials are quick to point out that the land is being paid for with bond dollars rather than general revenue dollars.

But both points miss the mark.

Little things add up.

And state government has failed to adopt a culture of frugality.

For instance, take a look at some of the things the General Assembly spent money on this month during a special appropriation:

$115,000 to help launch a high school basketball hall of fame in Danville.

$1 million to help build a new children’s museum in downtown Springfield.

$167,148 for a museum in Rosiclare dedicated to fluorspar mining.

“Did we just have to spend that money?” McCarter said. “Does it matter whether it’s ‘capital’ money or ‘general revenue’ money? It’s still our money, and there are better places to spend it.”

Despite revenues to state government being the highest in the Illinois’ 195-year history, the state has $9.3 billion in unpaid bills, an unfunded pension liability of more than $200 billion under new accounting standards, and the worst credit rating of any state in the union.

And yet, we are spending money on things like a basketball museum and hunting grounds.

Where are our leaders’ priorities?

They continue to spend in a manner that totally disregards any notion that the temporary income tax is partially expiring in less than 2 years.

And the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute poll found that 63 percent of Illinoisans opposed making that tax hike permanent.

It’s time for our lawmakers to spend less and set priorities.

The ball is in their court.

Note to readers – Scott Reeder’s column is underwritten by the Illinois Policy Institute.

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