A Publication of WTVP

You may have survived the onslaught of holiday commercials, but now you’re facing a real threat—an overwhelming number of political ads. These new campaigns are intended to turn out voters for specific candidates as Illinois holds its primary election February 2nd, some five weeks earlier than had been the case for as long as many can remember. Voters may recall that Illinois’ primary was pulled forward in 2008 to allow the state the opportunity to get out front in the presidential election for its favorite son, then-Senator Barack Obama.

This year, voters have multiple choices in a number of key races, with more than a dozen candidates for governor alone. Business needs to pay attention like never before. Primary winners will be campaigning up to the November general election on ways to fix our state’s daunting financial picture—the most serious in our history. They’ll be doing so as current state leaders struggle with crafting a fiscal year 2011 budget—beginning June 2010—that starts out, by some estimates, nearly $11 billion in the hole.

Can you say “bankrupt”?

Heading Toward Fiscal Implosion
In its December 2006 report on state spending, the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago said the state was heading toward fiscal implosion, with $5.9 billion in additional revenue needed each year to address true costs and spending commitments. The report urged lawmakers to cut costs and not to raise taxes—unless and until major spending reforms were put in place for education, healthcare and pensions.

In Facing Facts, a recent update to the 2006 report, the Commercial Club acknowledged that although no one in state government disagreed with its earlier conclusions and findings, little has been done about them. As a result, full funding of our state’s budgets today would require a minimum $8 billion annually in new revenue. Illinois’ liabilities and unfunded commitments now total an estimated $116 to $132 billion.

Whose fault is that? According to the Civic Committee, “The reality is that politicians in both major parties, over many years, have failed to manage the State’s affairs and finances consistent with the interests of the people who live and work in this State. They have ducked anything that resembled a hard choice. They have managed the State’s affairs to promote their own interests and political fortunes—by providing unsustainably costly benefits to the State’s employees and enriching influential contractors, by passing popular but expensive programs, and by shifting the cost burden of these programs to the future through borrowing or by simply ignoring the growing unfunded commitments.”

This is not an indictment of every state elected official. The political reality is that some legislators are simply shut out of the process. But as elected officials—either in the legislative or executive branch—all must bear a portion of the blame. The greater reality is that as voters, we all share in that responsibility as well. We’ve given what’s passed for state leadership a bye, not willing to hold state constitutional officers and legislative leaders accountable for the mess. We tend to resign ourselves to a mentality of “that’s just the way it is in Illinois.”

But that mentality is not sustainable—and as business people, it’s time we tell every candidate we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.

Candidates on the February 2nd ballot—actually voting is already underway—must offer a proposal to address the state’s fiscal fortunes. Basically, the “fix” is pretty straightforward. As a businessperson, you know that. Lawmakers will either be forced to cut spending, raise revenue (taxes) or craft some combination of both.

You also know that any fix is almost guaranteed to affect your business—through increased taxes or fees, more regulations or fewer services that can quickly trickle down to the local level.

If you’re not paying attention to who’s on the ballot and what their positions are—particularly on fixing the state’s financial picture—you need to be. There’s no better time. With months to go before the general election, the primary is only the first cut for who will be on the ballot in November.

What Can Business Do?
What should you do to get informed? First, take time to meet the candidates, study their positions and decide who you think can best address the current financial mess. Consider a personal or financial commitment to those you deem worthy.

Second, if you’re not involved already, consider joining one of a number of state associations that represent the interests of business in Springfield and provide assessments of candidates. Don’t hesitate to join in issue discussions and candidate forums. Consider taking a leadership role to promote your interests.

Finally, public policy affects essentially all aspects of your business at some time or another. No issue is of greater urgency than the state’s fiscal condition. Don’t be afraid to let your colleagues and employees know who you think represents the best opportunity for fixing the state’s financial mess.

State leaders to date have failed to take steps to stop the bleeding. And don’t look for any bold steps in the first half of 2010, with fall elections looming. Elections are the best opportunity we have to alter our state’s course. As business owners who need a vibrant state economic climate, we must deliver a hard message in 2010 elections: clean up the state budget mess now! iBi