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EDITORIAL: State of the State: Lots of work needs to be done to fix Illinois

Illinois+State+Capitol+in+Springfield.+%28Chicago+Tribune+file+photo%29
Illinois State Capitol in Springfield. (Chicago Tribune file photo)

Illinois State Capitol in Springfield. (Chicago Tribune file photo)

Illinois State Capitol in Springfield. (Chicago Tribune file photo)

By Rockford Register Star Editorial Board

Someday, the governor of Illinois will step up to a microphone and give a rousing speech that proclaims Illinois is the best place in the world to live, and he or she will have the data to back it up.

Wednesday wasn’t that day, and that day doesn’t look like it’s coming anytime soon.

Nevertheless, you have to credit Gov. Bruce Rauner for being mostly positive during his State of the State address. Rauner departed from the doom-and-gloom scenarios he’s been depicting in stops across the state the past few years and instead highlighted some of the good things that have been accomplished since he became governor.

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It wasn’t until a little more than a half hour into his speech that he started talking about the state’s challenges, but even then he offered Illinoisans a glimmer of hope.

“Our state’s economy could take off like a rocket ship if we could just come together on major pro-jobs changes that need legislation to take effect,” Rauner said. “Lawmakers from both parties deserve credit for working for many months to find ways to reduce regulatory costs and property tax burdens that make businesses in Illinois less competitive than our neighbors.”

“Hopefully we can build upon these initial proposals to ensure they drive big results on job creation. And hopefully we can work together to cut the red tape even more — reducing filing fees and costly licensing barriers that prevent hard-working Illinoisans from qualifying for good, high-paying jobs.”

Of course, there will be no hope unless lawmakers “come together” and finally agree on a budget. That will require bipartisanship and compromise unlike anything we’ve seen the past couple of years. Even there, the governor offered cautious optimism as he went “off script” to praise the work of Senate President John Cullerton and Senate Republican leader Christine Radogno in crafting a “grand bargain” to end the state’s budget stalemate.

Illinois has been without a true budget since Rauner took office. A six-month stopgap spending plan approved in June expired at the end of 2016.

The plan produced by Cullerton and Radogno includes tax increases and modest reforms aimed at helping Illinois become more business-friendly. There are enough provisions in the package of 13 bills to make everyone happy — or unhappy. Taxpayers won’t like the additional money they will be required to pay and businesses will want more reforms than are on the table at this point.

Illinois needs a budget — soon. The numbers below will not improve unless there’s a spending plan in place first.

  •  $130 billion pension debt
  • $5.3 billion general funds deficit
  • $13.5 billion bill backlog when fiscal year ends in June
  • 5.7 percent unemployment, a full point higher than the national rate
  • 37,508 number of residents lost in 2016, which puts Illinois’ population at the lowest its been since 2009

“We’ve been at the bottom for far, far too long,” Rauner said. “It’s time we race to the top. To lead the nation in job creation. To lead the nation in education funding and outcomes. To lead the nation in ethics and accountability. To lead the nation in poverty alleviation and violence reduction.”

We long for the day that Illinois becomes the leader in those categories and share the governor’s hope that it can happen if ….

“All of us — Republicans, Democrats, and everyone in between — have a moral obligation to work together to bring change,” the governor said. “We — together — can return Illinois to a place of hope, opportunity and prosperity.”

It’s time to turn the rhetoric into reality.

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(c)2017 Rockford Register Star, Ill.

Visit Rockford Register Star, Ill. at www.rrstar.com

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