The phone rings in the office of Gov. Pat Quinn:
“Hi, this is Jim calling from Acme Credit Services. We notice you have been late on your last four payments ...”
“Things have been tight, money-wise, Jim,” the staffer replies.
“We understand. But didn’t the governor promise to use the additional revenue from a 67 percent increase in personal income tax in 2011 to help take care of that?” Jim asks.
The staffer speaks sheepishly.
“Well, yes, his exact words were that the money was ‘designed to pay our bills,’ ” the staffer explains.
“How much of it was used to pay bills?” Jim asks.
“Hrufand,” is the answer.
“How much?” Jim asks, not hearing the answer clearly.
“Nothing,” says the staffer. “It took in an additional $25.7 billion for the state, but not a cent went toward paying off past-due bills. Nada. It all went to trying to stave off the pension problem. The backlogged payments are actually higher now than they were then ...
“Look, Illinois has a problem,” the staff member continues, “but I mean the governor is doing the best he can given all the circumstances. So the state owes almost $9 billion to schools and hospitals. So the unfunded pension liability is nearing $100 billion, and the state’s credit rating has been dumped a few times. What’s the harm in it all?”
Jim is riled.
“The harm is to taxpayers. The state’s invoices – those unpaid bills – carry a 1 percent penalty for every month they’re late after 90 days. Last year, that cost taxpayers $186 million alone,” he says. “Taxpayers are bearing the burden for state government’s inability to keep spending in control.”
“Whoa, bub,” an angry staffer retorts. “Spending is not out of control at all ...
The staffer’s voice trails off, and then continues:
“Well, we did come up with a mascot to let people know we had a budget problem – Squeezy the Python. Unfortunately, he suffocated in the overhead compartment of a flight back to Chicago from Springfield.”
“Sorry to hear that,” Jim says. “But what I need is the promise you will send us a payment today – any amount will be beneficial.”
The staff member pauses again.
“I promise you, with all the trustworthiness Illinois government can muster, that the check is in the mail.
“Just give it a month or five to get there.”
Jacksonville Journal-Courier, Ill.