Which state has the worst balance of assets and liabilities?
The answer is the state of Illinois. And like all things political or government related in the Land of Lincoln, the state is spectacularly inept in managing its finances.
Specifically, what if you toted up state government's real estate, investments, receivables - even the valuations of state parks and the domed Statehouse in Springfield - and from that total subtracted the state's accounts payable, debts and other liabilities?
The answer you get, according to Illinois' comptroller and auditor general, comes in three waves: bad news, really bad news, and reminds-you-of-Washington bad news. As you absorb it, ask what would happen at your workplace if your annual review documented this sort of performance:
The comptroller staff's financial report for fiscal 2010, the most recent audited, shows that Illinois' net assets continued to deteriorate but at an even faster pace than in previous years. Assets-minus-liabilities plummeted $8.4 billion, to a negative $37.9 billion.
• Illinois is the deadest deadbeat. As the accompanying graphic shows, in only three other states - New Jersey (negative $28.2 billion), Connecticut (negative $13.7 billion) and California (negative $4.2 billion) do liabilities trump assets. Every state calculates net assets the same way, so it was simple for the auditor general staff to compare 49 of them (Hawaii is late with its annual report).
• Dive deep into the Illinois numbers and you conclude that the negatrons likely will get bleaker before they get better: Illinois political leaders have spent so much, borrowed so much and committed so much future spending that a turnaround isn't likely any time soon. What's more, the mechanics behind these numbers don't include states' extended pension and health care obligations for retirees. For Illinois, the state with the worst-funded pension system and no money set aside for health care, those add-ons would expand the difference between assets and liabilities by many additional tens of billions.
The management of the public purse in Illinois is criminally sloppy, negligent, and without parallel in the United States. Hard to imagine that it can get any worse, but it will. The burden they are placing on future generations means that the state will continue to empty itself of people and businesses as taxes soar.
Eventually, the bills will come due. Too bad no one will be around to pay them.