When it comes to the five guys who want to be Illinois’ next governor, one of the major questions facing them will be how they plan to handle the expiration of the state’s temporary income tax hike.
The election happens in November 2014. The tax hike expires Jan. 1, 2015. The next governor will be sworn in about a week later.
If the tax increase is allowed to expire, it will immediately blow a gaping hole in the state budget, potentially forcing the next governor to use a meat cleaver to chop off huge hunks of state spending.
Thus far, none of the candidates are talking in any sort of detail about how they will handle the situation.
Gov. Pat Quinn, the lone Democrat in the race, says he's too focused on overhauling the state's underfunded pension systems to determine what he plans to do if the state falls off the precipice.
The four Republican candidates similarly aren't offering up any significant details.
About the most specific thing they’ll say is that they will trim government waste to account for the loss of money, which is about the most non-specific, unoriginal thing a politician can say.
Last week, the University of Illinois Institute of Government and Public Affairs Fiscal Futures Project weighed in on the situation.
The project found Illinois will face a budget gap of $1 billion in 2014. That gap is projected to grow to $14 billion by 2025.
At the same time, they said even if the tax hike is made permanent, Illinois will still face a budget gap of more than $7 billion by 2025.
The key to the problem is the state's debt, which includes nearly $100 billion in unfunded pension liabilities and a backlog of unpaid bills.
“Illinois must make aggressive changes in multiple areas, or will face fiscal imbalances for many years to come,” the authors of the report concluded.
Members of the General Assembly return to the Capitol on Tuesday for the second half of the fall veto session.
There is always the possibility they will take bold action and somehow address the state's pension mess.
There is also a very good possibility they won't.
-- HELD HOSTAGE
State Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, last week unveiled a plan to give Archer Daniels Midland tax breaks to keep its corporate offices in Illinois.
It will be curious to watch what happens. In response to Manar’s legislation, Quinn’s office reiterated his earlier stance on the matter.
“Governor Quinn won't even consider this proposal until there is a comprehensive pension reform solution on his desk,” a spokesman said.
Although Quinn is holding Manar’s job creation plan hostage as part of his pension negotiating ploy, the same doesn’t go for gay marriage, which the governor is fully supporting regardless of what happens on the pension issue.
-- DOWN THE BALLOT
Back in early August, when Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon announced she was running for state comptroller, one of her criticisms of current Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka was that she hadn't provided enough oversight of local government finances.
At the time, it sounded as though Simon was merely fishing for an issue, given that the comptroller's office has not been considered much of a watchdog in that area.
But, when you're a candidate for a mostly obscure down-ballot office, you go with what might draw some attention.
Here's what Simon's website said about her local government watchdog role: “Sheila will hold these governments accountable and show taxpayers how their money is being used in their community.”
So, it wasn't without irony that Topinka last week launched a seven-stop statewide blitz on the taxpayer's dime to announce a new feature of her office that compiles information and records from, surprise, local governments.
Topinka told skeptical reporters that the new website was not created in response to Simon's allegations.
"I think it's nonsense, because we started working on this when Sheila Simon was still dreaming of becoming attorney general," Topinka quipped.
For what its worth, Simon pointed out that the information on the new website was already available in another area of the comptroller's website.
“Repurposing a web address with the same information that could already be found on the comptroller website is too little and too late,” Simon said.