What is the state of Illinois's 'fiscal house'?

Two WBEZ reporters get hitched, then try to explain the state's fiscal mess.

March 5, 2013

Niala Boodhoo and Al Keefe

Today Gov. Pat Quinn will unveil his next budget. When he does, he's likely to use a metaphor that mentions Illinois's "fiscal house." It's one he and other politicans are fond of using.

But what exactly is the state of our fiscal house? 

"Dire," said Illinois's State Comptroller, Judy Baar-Topinka, adding the state is a "risk," similar to the way people think of Greece's finances. "We borrowed from ourselves, especially in the last four years, something fierce. We’ve basically used our pension funds like an ATM. Also we spent more than we took in, plain and simple."

"We are the Beverly Hillbillies of financial management," says Lawrence Msall, head of the nonpartisan budget watchdog group the Civic Federation.

We've been living beyond our means for too long, Msall says, and borrowing way too much money.

"It's like you use your credit card to pay your groceries, and then you don’t pay your grocery bill at the end of the month, you pay the bare minimum," Msall said.

Most people really only know two things for sure about Illinois's fiscal state: it's bad, and it's complicated. So we set out to translate the state's finances into plain English.