Illinois is a real contender when it comes to a race to the fiscal bottom
When it comes to its finances, the state of Illinois has gone from bad to worse. The good news, if one can call it that, is it's not yet the worst.
Truth in Accounting, a financial watchdog group, recently released its 10th annual report on the "Fiscal State of the States."
Illinois ranked No. 48 last year and fell to No. 49 this year in terms of its financial distress.
"We're the second-worst in the nation. New Jersey is the only one that's ahead of us on that score, and it's not a pretty picture. The deterioration happened in a year when the overall — or 50-state average — improved last year. Illinois did not improve. It continued to deteriorate," said Bill Bergman, the organization's research director.
Remember that the next time a state public official contends that the state is pulling itself out of a self-made financial mess. The governor and Legislature cannot continue to spend more money than the state takes in and expect real improvement in our effectively bankrupt state.
The top five states in terms of fiscal health, according to Truth in Accounting, are Alaska, North Dakota, Wyoming, Utah and Idaho.
The bottom five are Hawaii, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Illinois and New Jersey.
Illinois is hardly alone in terms of fiscal profligacy. The study found that "40 states do not have enough money to pay all of their bills and in total the states have racked up $1.5 trillion in unfunded state debt."
Here are a few grim facts about Illinois finances that were cited by Truth in Accounting.
It noted "Illinois' elected officials have made repeated financial decisions that have left the state with a debt burden of $223.9 billion." That breaks down to a "burden of $52,600 per taxpayer."
On the assets and liabilities scale, Illinois has $28.9 billion available to pay $252.8 billion in bills.
Of course, the state doesn't have to meet all of its obligations at once, so the assets/liabilities measure is not as terrifying as it appears. But, make no mistake about it, Illinois' financial situation is desperate.
The state is overwhelmed by unpaid bills, public pension obligations and legislators' insistence on continuing to spend more and more money the state doesn't have. There is a reason, after all, why Illinois dropped from No. 48 to No. 49.
Thank goodness for New Jersey, the only state keeping Illinois from coming in dead last.
— The (Champaign) News-Gazette