The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

March 25, 2014

More school cuts? Look somewhere else

Southern Illinoisan March 16
The Clinton Herald

---- — It doesn’t take much imagination to see the growing financial storm that will hit the state of Illinois in the not-so-distant future.

As we reported last week, the state shelled out an obscene $318 million in 2013 in tax receipts (translation: your money) to pay the interest on unpaid bills. To put such a large total in perspective, consider this: $318 million would cover the annual budget of the Illinois State Police.

That’s disturbing, especially since the annual total for interest on unpaid bills more than doubled from 2012. There is some consolation from the total debt being cut from $9 billion, but it’s not the fiscal achievement some incumbent lawmakers will tout in their re-election campaigns.

There also is the matter of the still-unpopular income tax hike that will expire at the end of the year. That will deprive lawmakers of $5 billion in tax dollars every year going forward. That’s a scary thought because the new cash brought in by the income tax hike didn’t provide for both debt retirement and more spending. We’re still in the hole.

Unless the income tax hike is extended, an unlikely prospect before the general election in November, some type of corrective action will be required. It might be possible to raise other taxes and fees to generate $5 billion. But which ones and why? It also might be possible to cut $5 billion in expenses. But which ones and why?

Cutting expenses is the better option, but not in the places lawmakers have preferred in recent years - funding for schools and higher education. Those areas already have taken big cuts, but still there are renewed fears of more cuts ahead for education.

State schools Superintendent Christopher Koch sounded the alarm last week. He said an early revenue blueprint from state lawmakers showed schools facing a nearly $1 billion funding cut beginning July 1. That’s a big slice, especially when compared to the nearly $1 billion increase sought by the Illinois State Board of Education to overcome some of the financial difficulties linked to earlier cuts.

It’s time to take education off the chopping block.

State budget cuts are coming. That seems certain. We don’t envy our lawmakers the task of putting the state’s finances in order, even though it’s one they deserve for many years of runaway spending. This time, lawmakers need to consider other alternatives to education cuts --- including an overdue revision of the state school funding formula --- before sharpening their budget knives.

The people of Illinois can’t afford the eventual price of more educational cuts — a further-damaged state business climate, more unskilled and idled workers, and high-priced strategies to deal with increases in crimes and social problems.