Friday, October 16, 2015

Retiree pensions, or lottery tickets – where are Illinois’ financial priorities?

The Illinois comptroller’s office let it be known his week that the state’s finances are such a mess due to the lack of a balanced budget in place that the payments toward the pension programs for state retirees due for November are likely to be missed.

The way things are going, the payments for December also may not be made.

YET SOMEHOW I expect the factual tidbit that will most offend people relates to the Illinois Lottery – in that officials said they have to scale back even further the level to which they can actually pay out prizes to lottery game winners.

The lack of a budget in place means the Department of the Lottery doesn’t have access to the funds that would be used to pay prizes to lottery winners.

Until this week, the lottery took the stance that any prize of more than $25,000 could not be paid. Winners received official documents confirming the state owed them the money, and that they would be paid once Gov. Bruce Rauner and the General Assembly’s leaders could put aside their partisan hang-ups and approve a budget.

But now, officials are saying the state’s finances are so tight that they cannot pay out anything more than $600. Which means that just about anyone who wins anything more than a token prize from one of those chintzy scratch-off games will not get anything.

NOW I HAVE written before that I don’t terribly sympathize with the lottery winners – some of whom seem to act as though they believe they are the ultimate victims in the ongoing political dispute over state government finances.

Nobody forces anyone to play the lottery. If they have to wait a bit, it’s not the biggest loss – particularly if the delay results in them getting interest payments on top of their prizes.

They may wind up being even bigger winners than they have any right to deserve to be.

But I have read countless Internet commentary complaining about the lottery prizes. Heck, I have received my own share of statements (all anonymous, of course) telling me how misguided I am – only in more-harsh terms than that.

IF THERE IS something that ought to be done, perhaps the Illinois lottery games themselves ought to be put on hold until such a time that the partisan politics are put aside and a budget is passed.

Although I don’t know who in their right mind would want to play lottery games where it is uncertain the prizes would be paid. That really is the equivalent of money being thrown into the toilet.

Because if it weren’t for the fact that the state is being so open about its lack of access to funds (the money does exist, taxes and fees to the state are still being collected), one could say that the Illinois lottery is a criminal racket.

How else could one describe something that takes your money with the promise of a huge payoff – then refuses to follow through on it?

TO BE HONEST, even the numbers racket operators of old had more honor than that. They made their fortunes off of large numbers of nickel bets, yet had the honesty to pay off the winners from among those whose dreams the night before resulted in some combination of numbers from a dream book.

Yet they were the “criminals,” while the modern-day lottery raises money for schools and “the children” – or at least so claims the official rhetoric.

Now I go so over the top in my rhetoric because I don’t expect the state lottery to shut down. THAT would be considered the ultimate offense by too many people – who would probably then file a lawsuit demanding the right to have a lottery so they can dream of winning their fortunes without having to work for them.

A concept that bothers me just as much as how the lack of those pension payments will cause even more problems for the state in the long-term – and not just because it gives the partisans of former Gov. Pat Quinn a reason to gloat because HE never missed pension payments during his time in office.


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