For all the angry talk about wanting to kick the bums out come 2010, politicians in Illinois have been making exactly the choices the state’s voters prefer when it comes to the state budget. In a poll by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, which was released this past week and measured voters’ attitudes on various budget issues, Illinoisans sent two contradicting messages: Don’t raise our taxes, but solve the state budget crisis without cutting education, programs for the poor and public safety. This has to end.

For all the angry talk about wanting to kick the bums out come 2010, politicians in Illinois have been making exactly the choices the state’s voters prefer when it comes to the state budget.

In a poll by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, which was released this past week and measured voters’ attitudes on various budget issues, Illinoisans sent two contradicting messages: Don’t raise our taxes, but solve the state budget crisis without cutting education, programs for the poor and public safety.

That’s exactly what our legislators and the past two governors have done. They did it by borrowing more and more money to avoid increasing taxes or cutting spending.

It’s the same bad choice too many Americans have made in their own personal finances — charging expenses beyond our incomes in order to prop up a stagnant or declining standard of living.

This has to end.

Statehouse observers and this page have predicted fiscal disaster over and over again. State lawmakers and the past two governors have managed to ward it off because they keep pulling out the state’s credit card.

But Illinois eventually will max out its credit card. The bills will come due. Don’t believe it? Look at the state of California.

The Simon Institute poll showed that Illinois voters haven’t the foggiest clue about the simple and cruel math of Illinois’ state budget. Fifty-seven percent of voters believe cutting waste and inefficiency can get the state across the fiscal finish line.

You can find all of the above in Illinois government. And it can be cut. We’ve decried it and will continue to do so.

But here’s the reality. This is an economic problem. There isn’t $12 billion in waste, inefficiency and corruption to trim. The amount of money our corrupt politicians and their cronies have pillaged is a rounding error in the millions, not billions.

Yes, waste, inefficiency and corruption should be snuffed out. But to say that they must be stopped before the state addresses its structural budget deficit is like saying, “Let’s torch this entire village so we can nab a few thieves.”

Twelve billion dollars is the estimated budget deficit for fiscal year 2011. To close it without raising taxes, the state would have to cut nearly $1 out of every $3 it spends from its general fund. Or it could continue to craft a patchwork solution of borrowing money from banks and its deadbeat practice of delaying payments to state vendors for months. It’s only a matter of time before the latter isn’t an option.

Live within your means! That’s what many will scream.

People hate to hear it, but the cumulative amount of taxes paid in Illinois, while overwhelmingly regressive and favorable to the rich, is low. Illinois’ state and local tax burden is 30th nationally. We have the lowest per-capita number of state employees in the nation. The average pensioner brings home $28,000 a year, not the outrageous six-figure pensions we’ve read about that are associated almost exclusively with politicians and creative, double-dipping bureaucrats.

Here’s what cutting our way out of this problem means: Laying off more state prison guards; releasing inmates early; laying off police officers, firefighters, teachers and state workers; cutting aid to the mentally ill, alcoholics, drug abusers and the disabled; and slashing aid to schools and local governments. Making those cuts will hurt people and send Illinois’ economy into a death spiral.

The past month saw the opening of the 2010 governor’s race. Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn announced his re-election on Thursday, which was preceded by Democratic Comptroller Dan Hynes’ announcement that he would challenge Quinn in the primary. The Republican candidates held their first voter forums. Candidates for legislative office already are gearing up for their races.

As the 2010 campaign moves forward, voters should keep one thing in mind: Those candidates who promise you no pain, those who say things can be solved by just making nips and tucks and magically creating private sector jobs — they have just lied to you.

Those who refuse to promise not to raise your taxes, those who admit that the only way to solve this thing is by taking a mixture of actions, which will probably include both spending cuts and tax increases, are more worthy of your attention and respect.

State Journal-Register