The new budget approved by Illinois lawmakers kind of makes us feel like we just found out the broken ankle we thought we had is only sprained.
It still hurts.
It was imperative that a budget get passed. But we're lukewarm to the details.
No one likes a tax increase. Illinoisans as individuals and through businesses alike will pay more under this new budget. True, at this point, we never thought the state would -- or will -- get out of its seemingly black hole of debt without a tax increase. But it's grudgingly that we accept that it is necessary.
We're encouraged to see spending cuts as part of the deal, too -- some $3 billion in cuts, noted Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza on Thursday as she made stops in Coles County.
We offer a pat on the back to state Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, and state Rep. Reggie Phillips, R-Charleston, for doing what they had to do and voting in favor of this budget -- albeit a highly imperfect one. The passage of the measure was vital to pulling the publicly funded Eastern Illinois University off of life support, and both did right by their constituents as they cast "yes" votes for a budget and, therefore, said "yes" to supporting arguably this region's No. 1 economic driver.
The cost of losing the university for this area would be far higher than the tax increases included in the state budget.
Yet we do wonder if we'd feel the same way if, for example, EIU was in good financial shape despite being starved by the state and it was another public university almost withered on the vine. Instead of tepid praise for the new budget, would we instead opine that state universities simply must tighten their belts more and somehow make it through a little longer?
We can't answer that question.
But we do know that we aren't happy with this budget. It does not go nearly far enough to reform the way that Illinois does business in order to fix these financial problems for the long term.
The state must have spending reforms, more cuts and more fiscal discipline to get out of its deficit spending habit and, someday, reach what should be the norm: a budget in the black.
One of the biggest problems with this budget is that we fear we will be right back in this same position again next year: lawmakers deadlocked on budget details and facing a deadline they may not make.
Now is the time for state legislators to get to work on that budget so that this state does not go without a spending plan for next year or any other year to come. We cannot stress enough that reforms must be made and spending cuts put in place to push Illinois toward a balanced budget.
"It's not going to go away overnight," Mendoza told the JG-TC Editorial Board on Thursday about the backlog of state bills. Interest on Illinois debt piles up to the tune of $2 million per day right now, she said.
Although the new budget does include some pension reform, as Mendoza noted, we believe that more is needed as part of a comprehensive plan to fix this state's financial footing.
The unfortunate tax increase that all Illinoisans will endure had better be a good investment in the future of this state. But this budget is just one step in getting the state back on the right track. We expect -- no, demand -- more spending cuts and serious reforms going forward.
If not, Illinois is in for a world of hurt yet to come.
-- JG-TC Editorial Board