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Editorial: On state budget, neither side has a solution

Editorial: On state budget, neither side has a solution

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It's always nice, but rarely significant, when the two political parties talk about a bipartisan approach to any issue.

When the issue is the Illinois budget, we'll believe it when we see it.

Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, warned last week the state may be facing a nearly $3 billion budget gap for the fiscal year that begins July 1. That figure comes from the end of the 2011 "temporary'' tax increases and projected, unavoidable spending increases, Cullerton said.

He asked for a bipartisan approach, perhaps hoping Republicans would be willing to shoulder some of the blame for a budget guaranteed to make several constituencies mad.

Cullerton has a veto-proof majority in the Senate, so he doesn't necessarily need the GOP's help. But it's always good to share the pain.

Republican Senate leaders answered back with a list of demands before they cooperate on the budget. They include:

• A guarantee the temporary tax increase will be allowed to roll back in January.

• A freeze on creating any new state programs.

• Tougher workers compensation laws.

• Continued focus on exposing Medicaid fraud.

• A pledge that Democrats won't push for a change in the state constitution to allow for a graduated income tax rate.

A lot of this is political gamesmanship. Gov. Pat Quinn, who was supposed to deliver his budget address last week, has been given until March 26 to outline his plan. That gives him about a week after the March 18 primary. It will be interesting to see how Quinn addresses the tax question.

But the budget problems are well known. Even with the temporary tax increase pouring millions of dollars into the state treasury, the Democrat-controlled Statehouse has been unable to bring spending under control.

Some of the increase has been eaten up by increased pension demands, but some also has been used to continue spending money the state doesn't have. The state has made a dent, a small one, in its backlog of bills. But that number is expected to rise in the next few months as well.

So far, neither party has proposed a long-term solution. The state spends more money that it brings in. The ultimate solution is to shrink the size of state government, reduce the number of governmental units and school districts and to make difficult decisions about reducing or eliminating programs. It's foolish for taxpayers to invest more money into a broken system.

The Republican list of demands just scratches the surface. But even that list will most likely be ignored by Democrats controlling state government.

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