When the Governor delivered his state of the state address last week and said, "Illinois is making a comeback," many critics raised objections.
Over the past few decades, Illinois has not been the model of fiscal or ethical stability for the nation. And that means there's a lot of clean up to do to get this state back on the right track.
Here's the thing: even though we're not there yet, there is a light at the end of this tunnel.
"Ok Emily," you might be thinking, "take off your rose-colored glasses."
Illinois is showing signs of a economic recovery. According to a Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank forecast, economic growth in Illinois is expected to accelerate to 2.35 percent in the first half of this year -- the fastest of the nation's five most populous states. And the "Flash Index" (a measure of future economic growth developed at the University of Illinois) indicates the state's economy ended 2013 on a strong note, which "engendered considerable optimism for 2014."
In addition, while some argue that lawmakers haven't worked to cut the budget, the reality is that lawmakers made program cuts to education and human services to the tune of almost $1.8 billion since FY 2009. Illinois has also made progress by paying off our bills, reducing the backlog by more than $3 billion, and lawmakers restructured the state-funded pension systems to save about $1 billion a year.
But here's where things get decidedly less rosy.
The looming revenue collapse -- the one that will take place automatically at midnight on January 1, 2015 -- will reverse any progress we've made, and will plunge Illinois deeper into its hole.
In FY 2015 alone, we'll have a budget shortfall of about $2 billion. You can double that for FY2016.
That level of revenue instability is not only bad for kids, families and communities; it's bad for investor confidence.
And where investor confidence plunges, so do credit ratings.
So while there are signs that Illinois is, indeed, in the midst of a comeback, we need to understand that it extends only as far as willingness to maintain stable and sustainable revenue for children, families and communities.
The reality is that unless lawmakers are willing to maintain funding for schools, roads and bridges, public safety and other essential services, we can kiss our comeback goodbye.
Don't call it a full comeback yet. But with a commitment from lawmakers to maintain fiscal stability, we can get there.
Emily is the Policy Advocacy Director at Voices for Illinois Children. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @EJMill.