We don’t have the money

If Gov. Pritzker wants to be successful, he can’t spend funds we don’t have

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There’s always a sense of hopefulness when new administration takes office in Illinois. Public optimism is usually the result of the triumph of hope, not experience.

That’s why Gov. J.B. Pritzker took Illinois by storm since his inauguration, followed by a downstate appearance promoting jobs, issuing executive orders and signing legislation.

The truth is Illinois residents — particularly those who live downstate — are watching and hoping he’ll lead our sorry state to the promised land of balanced budgets, prudent financial management and fiscal solvency.

Illinois will never get there if Pritzker repeats the mistakes of the past — spending money the state doesn’t have. That’s why it was disturbing that one of Pritzker’s first actions this week involved spending more money the state doesn’t have.

One of Pritzker’s first acts s governor was to conclude the talks with the state workers union AFSCME and immediately ordering the reinstatement of step raises which former Gov. Bruce Rauner denied, citing a lack of state funds.

Some might consider Pritzker’s action to be a simple matter of economic justice.

The other side of the argument is the state doesn’t have the money to pay the increased wages, and, further, Pritzker’s office either didn’t or couldn’t say how much the raises will cost. A spokeswoman for Pitzker said “... it will take several weeks to provide an accurate picture of cost.”

The word provide is an interesting choice of language because it can be read in two ways.

It could mean the Pritzker administration knows the cost but intends to wait a while before providing it to the news media. A more benign interpretation is the Pritzker administration doesn’t know how much it’s committed to spend.

Estimates have varied, with the Rauner administration predicting it would be about $200 million.

The administration’s unwillingness and/or inability to provide cost figures drew fire because it significantly undermines its credibility with respect to fiscal issues.

But it’s important to remember that one of the reasons Illinois is in a huge financial hole is because so many elected officials felt a moral obligation to spend money the state did not have.

There are those who say that can’t be done — but they’re wrong. Illinois has been spending money it doesn’t have for years. The bill eventually comes due.