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State budget needs more than a glance

Published: Friday, April 12, 2013 10:45 a.m. CDT

(MCT) —The state budget has about as many pages as a Stephen King novel during his most prolific period — and just as many twists and turns.

So imagine being given “Firestarter” and told to read through and prepare to be tested on the tale of pyrokinetic power.

It seems unlikely the 426-page work of fiction would have any chance of getting a real review.

That’s OK. Missing out on the pithy nuances of Rainbird’s interaction with Andy won’t harm anything.

Not so when it comes to the 472-page publication known as the state budget proposal. Even when disregarding the “page left intentionally blank” references and the 20 pages needed just to explain the abbreviations and terminology used, two hours is hardly enough time to thoroughly exam a document (some say it’s a work of fiction, too) that determines whether Illinois remains entangled in the financial briar patch.

This is the guide for how a state that already owes more than $8 billion in unpaid bills is going to spend an estimated $35 billion of mostly taxpayer money.

Number after number of dollars and cents upon row after row of department names fill much of the budget proposal, along with enough footnotes and references to make a doctoral candidate giddy.

Perhaps it’s because the power structure of the state Legislature doesn’t want anyone to look at the numbers for too long — like the Wizard of Oz bellowing to pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.

As long ago as July, when the State Budget Crisis Task Force released its findings, it has been clear that “the trajectory of state spending, taxation, and administrative practices cannot be sustained. The basic problem is not cyclical. It is structural.”

Without pulling back that magical curtain, nothing can change.

Glen Carbon Republican Dwight Kay had hoped to change that this year. He filed legislation that would have required a 72-hour wait between the time the budget proposals are presented to lawmakers to the time a vote is scheduled to approve or reject the proposal.

“To me, 72 hours is the absolute minimum necessary to review a budget,” he told political reporter Scott Reeder. “Last year, we got two hours before it came up for a vote. Why do they do this? I think it’s because some people don’t want it known how much money is going to Chicago versus the rest of the state. Or they don’t want it known how much money is going to some worthless programs.”

It came as no surprise to Kay or anyone, really, that his proposal was tucked neatly onto a shelf and has been gathering dust since then.

Kay is right, though. Three days seems a fair amount of time for someone to be able to review, digest and truly comprehend something of such magnitude and make what is arguably the most important decision with which a lawmaker is entrusted.

This editorial appeared in The Telegraph, Alton, Ill.

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