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No normalcy ahead

Monday, Nov 24, 2008

* A “normal” governor would want to try and keep everyone together during this fiscal crisis and not needlessly go out of his or her way to cause trouble. We don’t have a normal governor, however

Seven state parks will still close next weekend, even though Gov. Rod Blagojevich and state lawmakers have approved money to keep them open, the Blagojevich administration said today.

Blagojevich originally targeted 11 state parks to close Nov. 30. Lawmakers approved $230 million in new spending to prevent those park closings and a variety of other cuts, and the governor approved most of that spending yesterday.

But Blagojevich spokeswoman Katie Ridgway said Friday afternoon that only four of those 11 state parks will remain open: Hennepin Canal Parkway State Park in Sheffield, Channahon Parkway State Park in Channahon, Gebhard Woods State Park in Morris and Kickapoo State Park in Oakwood.

Nothing like going out of his way to enrage lawmakers over about a million dollars. Good one.

* There’s no doubt that the fiscal mess is real and intense

As the amount of state money owed to the Christopher Rural Health Planning Corp. edges ever closer to $1 million, the nights get longer for its president and CEO Kimberly Mitroka.

CRHPC, a not-for-profit organization that operates 15 healthcare clinics in nine Southern Illinois counties, provides medical, dental and pharmacy services for more than 30,000 patients.

Fully one-third of those patients are on Medicaid, the medical benefits program administered by the state.

As of Friday, the organization was owed a little more than $900,000 by the state for services provided to Medicaid patients.

* And budget holes are appearing everywhere

Once viewed as a cash cow that could fetch well over half a billion dollars and save the state budget, Illinois’ only available casino license is being pursued by three companies offering far less, and industry analysts say even those cut-rate numbers may not hold up in the sagging economy.

“It’s very bad timing for Illinois,” said Bill Eadington, director of a gambling institute at the University of Nevada-Reno. “We’re facing the biggest economic recession in 75 years. I wouldn’t be surprised if the companies that made bids a couple months ago could no longer justify them.”

* To make matters worse, the Wall Street nosedive is devastating the pension funds

The financial markets have taken a toll on Illinois’ pension programs. Lawrence Msall is the head of the Civic Federation.

MSALL: We’re hearing projections of losses in excess of 20 percent or more. And they were already dramatically underfunded to the tune of about 43 billion. So we believe that we’ll be passing the 50 billion mark.

Unless we see a turnaround soon, that will translate into more money from taxpayers.

* And the future is bleak

A breakthrough will take compromise and sacrifice from both legislators and the governor. That message hasn’t truly hit home at the Capitol.

“We’re going to have make adjustments in the budget, just like a lot of people will, and they’re probably going to be painful,” Hannig said. “But we have to recognize the reality that we’re in a recession.”

I don’t want to even think about next year yet. It won’t be fun for anyone.

* Related…

* Blagojevich spares just four parks

* Tribune: No casino for Rosemont

* Lots of talk, little action on state budget crisis

* Bidding for Illinois’ Tenth Casino Enters Final Round

* Moffitt: There’s Still Hope For Historic Sites

* Downstate sheriff wants to limit jailings

* Mansion agreement welcome, but more work needed

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Princess - Monday, Nov 24, 08 @ 10:55 am:

    Well, here comes the next ‘demonstration’. Tomorrow afternoon @ 5:30 at the Gov’s Mansion for Historic Preservation. While I wish them a nice turn out, I’m sure Rod will be up in Chicago, maybe he can catch a glimpse of it on the news.

    At the chance of being immediately corrected, I am not sure the bill did contain enough to keep all 11 parks open. When one just looks at payroll and then considers the cost of the state’s share of benefits ect not counting any equipment repairs, let along repair/maintaince projects, the couple million in the bill does not go every far.

    And the fun and games for these park employees are not over yet. Paper reported McCloud as saying 17 employees currently at the remaining 4 ’saved’ parks. Not countng the PSA/Super the count should read 22 employees. And there’s no promise out of DNR that all employees from the 4 parks will have their lay-off rescinded. If I remember right it was termed they are evaluating the staffing levels. So, just one last chance to let these employees stress it out a bit longer to see whether or not they do indeed have jobs and if so, how they will be expected to carry on the maintaince with perhaps less co-workers and repair money. Kinda hard to keep doing the job if part of the equipment is not working or can’t afford routine maint. on it or to purchase necessary supplies. It’d be nice if while they are evaluating they swung by these ’saved’ sites and took a close hands on look-see as to what the park does entail and not just look at figures nad levels on a paper from a distant office.

  2. - Pot calling kettle - Monday, Nov 24, 08 @ 11:37 am:

    I read that three of the four “saved” parks were likely spared because of federal money tied to trails that pass through them. That would diminish the Governor’s magnanimity a bit more. I’m wondering what Kickapoo has going for it…

    As I’ve suggested before, if the DNR is so pressed for cash, why not clear out the campaign staff parked in DNR HQ? I suspect there are enough of those people in Springfield and Chicago to keep a park or two open. I wonder if someone could leak a list of those folks.

  3. - Princess - Monday, Nov 24, 08 @ 11:51 am:

    Pot: “I’m wondering what Kickapoo has going for it…”

    I beleive the spin is he tried to save at least one from each region. Pfft. He didn’t seem to remember he had 5 regions instead of 3 to begin with. Who knows why Rod does or does not do anything, but my ‘guess’ on the selected ’saved’ would be that nobody did their homework when the original ‘hit list’ was made.

  4. - Little Egypt - Monday, Nov 24, 08 @ 12:02 pm:

    The gridlock will continue for at least 2 more years. We can hope that Blago will be indicted sooner and forced to resign. I know, innocent until proven guilty. Tell that to the director of the Lincoln Presidential Museum. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Blago gets indicted - Blago gets pushed out of office.

    Unfortunately the chance of the health care providers getting caught up on what the State owes them is slim to none. The Illinois House and Senate simply cannot give Blago a capital bill or any other way to spend money however he desires. When you have lost the trust of the people and you have lost your good name, you have lost everything.

    I can’t imagine what kind of Thanksgiving dinner Blago will have but I’m betting he won’t be sharing the table with Dick Mell.

  5. - Cassandra - Monday, Nov 24, 08 @ 12:11 pm:

    I don’t know…Chuck Schumer is talking about a domestic stimulus/bailout of up to $700 billion.
    With that kind of money coming out to the states and to public works in general, it’s possible that budget struggles will occupy less of the legislature’s time and energy, since there will be so much money washing about. I’m not saying this from the perspective of for or against this type of stimulus plan. Like most people, I don’t know if it would work, or what the long-term uninteneded consequences would be.

    I think the politicos and the rest of us should hold out until spring. The budget situation may well be completely changed. After all, states can’t afford to be allowed to fail either.

  6. - Truthful James - Monday, Nov 24, 08 @ 12:29 pm:

    Well the pension funds are paying for several misapprehensions.

    1. Having high powered lobbyists getting big fees from the Pension managers guarantees the highest possible returns.

    2. Shorting the actuarially required state contributions can always be made up from more risky investments.

    3. Having the local bodies raise final three years salaries 20% or more to maximize the pensions being paid by the State, keeps labor peace at no cost to the taxpaying public.

    4. People receiving pensions will not live any longer anyway.

    5. Letting retirees work and acquire additional pension fund standing while drawing current pensions is a smart idea.

  7. - Steve - Monday, Nov 24, 08 @ 12:42 pm:

    Illinois is going to have to sell some land to raise to cash.More land on the tax rolls is a good idea.

  8. - Little Egypt - Monday, Nov 24, 08 @ 12:48 pm:

    Steve, Illinois is trying to BUY more land in Harrisburg.

  9. - Truthful James - Monday, Nov 24, 08 @ 1:58 pm:

    For your reading delectation regarding the Pension situation across the nation, City and County Magazine published today the following article

    Locally administered pension plans are as well funded as state plans and have better track records for making their Annual Required Contributions (ARCs), according to the Washington-based Center for State and Local Government Excellence’s (CSLGE) eighth issue brief on retirement plans, released in October. However, “The Funding Status of Locally Administered Pension Plans” also found that some jurisdictions are facing serious shortfalls in their plans, and the declining economy may lead to even more difficulties in the future.

    The study of 84 local pension plans, based on 2006 data, found that their average funding ratio was 85 percent, versus 84 percent for states. Also, 69 percent of the plans made their ARCs, compared to 54 percent of state plans, according to the report. “While the 2006 data show that most plans are well funded, there is reason to be cautious,” CSLGE Executive Director Elizabeth Kellar said in the report’s introduction. “Current economic conditions will make it difficult for local governments to maintain funding discipline, and a few plans are poorly funded.”

    View the entire report as a PDF.

  10. - Truthful James - Monday, Nov 24, 08 @ 2:07 pm:

    In order to cut to the chase of the Study ( BTW, the URL includes all three lines above although only one is highlighted.) the three large local pension funds with the greatest shortfall in reaching the required Annual Required Contribution level — and the percent increase required — are

    Chicago Teachers 14.3
    Omaha Police and Fire 11.5
    Chicago Municipal 11.4

    We don’t care much about Omaha, I am sure. But …

  11. - Johnny USA - Monday, Nov 24, 08 @ 2:14 pm:

    If the outlook for Illinois is as bleak as this article maintains, isn’t Governor Blagojevich doing a good thing by only keeping four of the eleven state parks open?

    Wouldn’t the money saved by closing the other state parks be better spent on shoring up the pension fund or paying medicare bills?

    I can kind see Blago’s reasoning…

  12. - Skirmisher - Monday, Nov 24, 08 @ 2:40 pm:

    74th District Rep. Moffitt’s “hope” for State Historic Sites is no hope at all, and in fact is exactly the plan that the Governor’s people are are already trying to implement, with or without legislative blessing. IHPA Director Grimes has already been meeting with site volunteer organizations telling them that if they want their historic site open, then they or some other non-state entity will have to find the means to fund and operate it. And actually, a couple of State Historic Sites have been operating on this basis for several years. The problem is that although local groups can open the doors and mow the lawn and maybe clean the bathrooms once in a while, they really can’t be charged with the protection and preservation of irreplaceable artifacts, and when the roof starts to leak or other major problems arise in a building built 150 years ago or more, they can’t come up with anything at all like the money or expertise needed to deal with the problem. Ask ‘em! The plan being pushed by Moffitt and the guv’s folks is the sort of idea that comes from people who simply can’t see their historic heritage in any other terms than tourist dollars. Unfortunately, the loss for future generations of Illinois citizens is liable to go well beyond that.

  13. - Pot calling kettle - Monday, Nov 24, 08 @ 2:49 pm:

    Johnny, your point would be valid but for the placement of the decimal point. The $$$ directed to keep the parks and state historic sites open are on the order of a few million dollars. The troubles in the pension funds are in the billions.

    The example I keep using (campaign workers parked in agencies until they are needed) points to the hypocrisy of the governor’s actions. If he were truly concerned about the state of the state, he would keep the trained & experienced career employees. To replace them in a year or two will probably cost more than keeping them, same goes for the deferred maintenance. The more cost effective solution is to cut loose those he has appointed to desk jobs in Chicago and Springfield in anticipation of the next campaign.

    For the pension plans to get relief there needs to be serious new revenue. The pension funds need dedicated revenue. Cutting jobs and closing parks just does not fit the bill. The whole DNR budget is around than $220 million for FY09; which would barely dent the pension problem.

  14. - VanillaMan - Monday, Nov 24, 08 @ 4:46 pm:

    No - we live in Illinois. There has been no normalcy here since 1996.

  15. - Mary - Monday, Nov 24, 08 @ 5:09 pm:

    I agree with the example “campaign workers parked in agencies until they are needed” but, what about all the bonus money the Dems are receiving from the state? Unbelievable!!

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