As the Sun-Times reported last week, a new AARP Illinois survey raises troubling questions about a deepening crisis of confidence in Illinois’s future.
Taken together with other recent research, the AARP survey shows that nearly three out of four Illinois voters lack confidence that Springfield’s latest budget deal actually will address the root causes of the state’s fiscal crisis. The budget adopted this year has not yet paid the $7.5 billion in unpaid state bills, does little to address the staggering $140 billion in state long-term debt and doesn’t even balance income and spending, as it is constitutionally required to do.
No wonder that two-thirds of Illinois voters say they are angry or extremely angry about Illinois’ current fiscal crisis. No wonder that 49 percent of voters we surveyed say they have considered fleeing the state. The grim truth is that Illinois is still at risk of becoming America’s first failed state.
To state the obvious: No state can achieve long-term prosperity and stability if its citizens lose confidence in its future.
But AARP Illinois refuses to give up on our state. In this emerging crisis, it is time for those who would govern Illinois to step up to the challenge of leadership:
* Candidates for all state offices, starting with all candidates for governor, should lay out specifically and in detail exactly how they would resolve the state’s long-term fiscal crisis. It is not enough to end the budget impasse that has done so much to undermine confidence in Illinois’ future. We need long-term solutions.
* Candidates for the General Assembly should not only explain what measures they support to achieve long-term fiscal stability, but commit to working across partisan boundaries. Illinois has had more than enough of partisan tribalism. Much more of politics as usual could critically undermine the future of the state.
* Illinoisans must summon patience. As attendees and panelists at three AARP Illinois/NPR Illinois forums on the fiscal crisis agreed last week, long-term fiscal stability is going to require not one single “magic bullet” but many solutions, some large and long-term, some small and immediate. The issues will be complex, the discussion will probably become heated and there are not likely to be quick fixes. The important thing is to start, to be willing to compromise as long as we are making progress, and to persevere until we are fiscally strong again.
* Policymakers would do well to model the approach that voters are taking, reflected in AARP’s just-released survey as well as other important research. Some 56 percent of those surveyed said that the state needs both more revenue and reductions in spending. To see more details on the policy options that Illinois voters supported in this survey, please go to: https://enoughisenough.aarp.org/news/npr-illinois-survey-illinois-voters-angry-about-states-fiscal-problems-mismanagement/
Today Illinois is broken. But each of us can play a role in Illinois’s future renaissance.
You can start by calling the campaigns for governor and General Assembly in your area and demanding that the candidates lay out, specifically and in detail, exactly how they would end the state’s long-term fiscal crisis.
Illinois is a wealthy, populous and economically strong state with a proud history. We have shown ourselves capable of responsibility, good stewardship and great energy. We can overcome this crisis as we have many previous challenges.
But as with all things, the essential ingredient is leadership. It is time for those who ask us to trust them with great power to prove they are worthy of it.