EDITORIAL: Lake County's finances could look like Illinois'

2013-02-01T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Lake County's finances could look like Illinois' nwitimes.com
February 01, 2013 12:00 am

Take note, Lake County, of the government financial fiasco boiling over in neighboring Illinois. If Lake County government officials don't wake up and pursue more sound economic policies and strategies, Lake County could be a microcosm of Illinois' bigger financial problems.

In Illinois, the biggest root of the problem is the state's inability to address its $96 billion pension fund deficit -- retirement funds obligated to state employees. In Lake county, the problem continues to be government waste, patronage jobs and the continual refusal of county officials to adopt a local option income tax to bridge budgetary gaps and release the state's property tax freeze.

Illinois' inability to deal with the pension deficit led Standard & Poor's to lower that state's credit rating recently. The rating agency noted that, given Illinois' track record, it didn't believe lawmakers would fully address the deficit, which was caused by decades of irresponsible underfunding.

That downgrade could mean Illinois taxpayers will pay a higher interest when the state issues bonds for construction projects and other initiatives with big price tags.

Lake County, seems to be headed in a similar direction. Rather than responsibly dealing with the budget deficiencies through a local income tax, the trend has been to run up the county's debt, borrowing from Peter to pay Paul and putting the taxpayers on the hook for the debt.

Lake County has an encumbrance of $118.5 million in principal and interest, surely one of the highest in the state. Neighboring Porter County carries only $3.5 million in principal and interest encumbrances, according to state records.

But Lake County officials continue to pursue borrowing to continue funding their wasteful agendas. Just last year, the county announced intentions to borrow $15 million, possibly from Porter County. That deal didn't pan out, so the county borrowed $15 million from the private bond market. On a list of sound financial principles, one won't find the concept of increasing debt to pay off more previous borrowing or long-held wasteful practices.

Illinois' financial woes prompted Gov. Pat Quinn to kill the planned sale Wednesday of $500 million in construction bonds.

Wake up Lake County officials. If you're not careful, we could end up looking a lot like troubled Illinois.

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