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Illinois has been shutting down for a decade

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

SPRINGFIELD – Since the federal government “shutdown,” some liberal folks I know have been making a lot of noise.

To hear some of them talk, the apocalypse is upon us.

Funny – I haven’t noticed.

A friend working overseas is steamed that college football games won’t be broadcast on Armed Forces Radio. But for the most part, critical services are still being provided as politicians on both sides posture and finger point.

I only wish that could be said for the state of Illinois.

You see, the Land of Lincoln has been slowly shutting down over the past decade because of fiscal mismanagement and overspending. And unlike this so-called “federal shutdown,” people other than government workers are actually getting hurt.

Our state prisons are overcrowded and dangerous.

Our governor’s response? Close prisons and pack inmates into fewer facilities.

The supermaximum security prison at Tamms has gone dark.

And now the most dangerous prisoners in the system are now interspersed with less violent inmates. The women’s prison in Dwight closed despite women being among the fastest growing incarcerated populations.

Two homes for the mentally disabled and two more for the mentally ill have shut their doors or are in the process of closing.

This is an embarrassment.

There are core government functions that must go on.

Incarcerating criminals is one of them. Another is caring for low-income disabled folks who have nowhere else to go.

But instead of focusing on basic services such as these, the state has been on a spending spree.

Government worker pensions gobble up larger and larger portions of the state budget each year.  About 17 percent – or almost $6 billion – of the state operating budget now goes to pensions.

While politicians give the matter a lot of talk, we have yet to see comprehensive pension reform – and as a result,  the growing pension obligation is squeezing out some of the most basic state services.

Escalating Medicaid costs also are putting the squeeze on the state budget. The state’s response has been to expand the number of people eligible for Medicaid rather than contract it. 

In fact, 35 percent of all Illinois physicians don’t take new Medicaid patients, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. 

Illinois is the eighth-worst in the nation in that regard.

Of course, few people are actually calling it a “shutdown.” But that is what is happening. State government is failing its citizens.

Bills go unpaid. Medicaid patients are turned away. Prisons are closed.

It’s a government shutdown in all but name.

• Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and the journalist in residence at the Illinois Policy Institute.

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