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Illinois report: economy 'in big trouble,' but time is right for progress

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Robert Rich, chancellor Paula Allen-Meares

Robert Rich, director of the Institute for Government and Public Affairs, and Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares at the Chancellor’s Lecture Series Thursday in Student Center West.

Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin

It was a good news-bad news report — with the bad news outweighing the good — as Robert Rich, director of the Institute for Government and Public Affairs, assessed the critical issues facing Illinois for a UIC audience Thursday.

Rich presented an overview of The Illinois Report 2011, the institute’s annual assessment of the “state of the state,” before a full house in Student Center West for the Chancellor’s Lecture Series.

“The time is right for progress, but progress will be difficult to achieve without vision, fortitude and perseverance,” Rich said.

The economy “is in big trouble in Illinois” with a $4 billion budget deficit that doesn’t include another $6.5 billion in unpaid bills, he said.

The personal and corporate income tax increases recently passed by the General Assembly “fall short of closing the massive budget gap,” Rich said.

“Because of unpaid bills, we now live in a state where for the first time, appropriations appear to mean nothing. Because funds are appropriated doesn’t mean we will actually get the money.”

Rich said the tax increase fails to address the state’s other pressing financial problems, including pension funding, costs associated with health care reform and long-term spending needs for education and health care.

“The economy needs help. One of the best ways to get that help is through the creation of jobs,” he said, adding that Illinois added 6,300 jobs between October 2009 and October 2010 — but remains about 450,000 jobs behind the state’s previous peak in November 2000.

Illinois leaders need to understand that education is the way to meet any challenge, Rich said.

“The university is an economic engine that has a positive impact on the state,” he said. “Making a commitment to our state’s future requires a commitment to Illinois students.”

Rich said cuts in state expenditures will only go so far — Illinois would have to cut its budget by 26 percent to fix the current deficit, more than the entire budget for education or human services.

“The first step requires vision,” he said. “The state needs a plan. Next, fortitude to endure the pain of budget cuts, making sacrifices while maintaining jobs. Then, perseverance, because economic recovery may be painfully slow.”


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