Sen. Kim Lightford made an obvious but necessary observation during a conversation with a Review reporter on the state’s budget woes. The decision to punt on a series of tough decisions and plug a multibillion-dollar hole with a line of credit does nothing but delay the inevitable – and at great expense.
“We haven’t generated any revenue,” Lightford said. “I predict in six months we’ll be back at this.”
Certainly, we can debate whether the best path to a balanced budget is through cutting costs or raising taxes. But there’s almost no doubting Lightford’s prediction that lawmakers will be forced to reconcile such matters in relatively short time. Borrowing money to pay routine, predictable expenses only creates more debt. And with a projected annual growth in the Consumer Price Index of only 0.1 percent, well, it doesn’t appear the state is about to see a windfall of cash to counter its burdens.
Locally, there are some amazing parallels in what the state is going through and what has been happening in the Proviso Township high school district.
Last year, the district borrowed several million dollars (in the form of working cash bonds) to meet routine expenses. Payroll, utilities, office supplies and things of that nature could no longer be met. The same economy that is crippling revenues in Springfield will choke the school district’s budget in the coming year – perhaps longer. There’s a projected operating deficit of $2.9 million in next year’s District 209 budget.
One advantage the school district has that the state doesn’t is the benefit of financial leadership from an outside party. In January, an oversight panel was assembled to keep the school district from drowning in its wasteful ways. This group of volunteers has delivered handfuls of common-sense practices to try and bring stability to Proviso. However, it’s been only seven months. There’s still plenty of work to be done.
Yet, not long after the district hauled out the welcome wagon to show taxpayers how eager it was to work with this group, board members this month started asking when all this pesky oversight would end.
“Now that they’re in it, some of them want to get out from under it,” Jim Popernik, chairman of the oversight panel, said.
Popernik admitted he was a bit surprised by the sentiment coming from the school board. So are we. It has been seven months. There is still a projected deficit that runs into the millions. Programs, staffing and supplies are being slashed in stunning fashion. That anyone on the board could look at that scenario and walk away with a sense of accomplishment is just incredible.