Illinois By The Numbers: 214

$214 billion dollars. According to the non-partisan Truth in Accounting, $214 billion is Illinois' total debt while the state has merely $30 billion in assets.

Remove the billions to make these stratospheric numbers consumable and it boils down to this: Illinois' debt to total assets ratio is 7:1. To call this is a precarious financial position is to call the Eastland a boating accident.

How big is $214 billion?

The annual state payroll covering more than 82,000 state employees is approximately $5 billion. The combined budget of the City of Chicago, the County of Cook and the Chicago Public School system is approximately $18 billion, or a mere 8% of Illinois' total debt burden. The state general revenue fund budget last fiscal year was $35 billion. So the effective state budget is 16% of the total state debt burden.

That is like making $50,000 a year and trying to pay down $305,000 in credit card debt--and, in Illinois' case, while still spending in the same manner that generated that debt burden in the first place. As you would be in such a position, Illinois can no longer make its monthly minimum payment.

If you are someone who has hummed along to the tune of "bipartisanship" sung by Illinois Republicans and Democrats alike, you might consider that bank robbers also work together cooperatively.

You might additionally consider that $214 billion in debt doesn't get racked up overnight. It took decades of Republican governors and Democrat legislators and Democrat governors and Republican legislators working together, across party lines, to destroy Illinois' economy and render the state functionally bankrupt.

So what to do about the number 214?

There are four big ticket systems in state government--where we spend the overwhelming majority of our money: Medicaid, public pensions, K-12 education and transportation.

All represent core functions of state government and none are finance-able in their current form. We need to completely rethink and reorder how we educate children, provide health care for the poor and vulnerable, fund public sector employees' retirements and maintain our surface, air and water infrastructure.

We need to change the incentives those systems provide, the liabilities they generate and the means by which we pay for them--in real time and real quick.