Two years ago, a small group of women legislators from both chambers and both parties began meeting to see if we could begin working on solutions to Illinois’ impending fiscal challenges. Decades of the state failing to make required pension payments, decreased state revenues from the Great Recession and the expiration of a temporary increase to the state’s income tax all culminated at the same time, creating a perfect storm of financial disaster.

What happened in those meetings, besides the fact that we really got to know each other, was that we developed a pretty good understanding of what was at stake. We talked to everyone we could, interviewed experts and honestly discussed our political differences. While the meetings originally focused on our budget, they moved on to other issues demanding attention, including workers compensation reform, pension reform, property tax relief, school funding reform and term limits for leadership.

While there were undoubtedly aspects of these issues I was totally against, we all knew in our hearts that we had to do something to end the impasse.

So we did what is often missing from our state and federal leaders these days: We talked. We negotiated. And we compromised. Time after time, we made changes to our plan to incorporate the vast diversity of ideas and opinions from both sides of the aisle.

While hours upon hours of good-faith negotiations led to some real progress on a host of issues, it became clear that the package of budget and reform proposals would not receive Republican support. Some who were opposed to our plan said they were simply waiting to get “a better deal for taxpayers.”

The reality of the situation is that every day we fail to enact a balanced budget, taxpayers pay more. We pay more in the form of increased cuts to colleges and universities and social safety programs. We pay more when payments to local schools are delayed and construction projects are derailed. We pay more when basic state functions begin to shut down due to a lack of cash. And yes, we will pay more in the form of higher taxes with less to show for it.

I know there are aspects of this package that are completely detestable to some - and for good reason. People are tired of gridlock and inaction in their government, whether it is in Springfield or in Washington. But we have to save our state.

I worked with my colleagues for months to develop a budget that ultimately cut $3 billion in spending while also bringing in additional state revenues to fill the void. We cannot reasonably ask the taxpayers to solve this problem with only increased taxes. Similarly, it would be irresponsible to only solve this problem by slashing public school funding, public safety and health care for individuals with disabilities.

We are at a turning point in Illinois. Will we rise to the occasion and put Illinois on a path toward fiscal health and discipline? I ask my colleagues perpetuating the myth that there exists a “better deal for taxpayers”: If you don’t want to make the tough choices needed to get this state out of the gutter, how do you think this situation will look in 2018? Two years ago, our overdue bills totaled $3.4 billion. How devastating will the cuts be when we owe not $14 billion in backlog today but $24 billion by 2018, as our debt continues to explode unchecked? What will the income tax rate be at that point? How will our children succeed in schools receiving no state payments? What will be the condition of our bridges and expressways with no state investment?

Somebody better start telling the truth. Waiting for a “better deal for the taxpayers” undoubtedly means that it will be a more expensive deal for all of us.

Wasting time is wasting money. Inaction is reckless spending. And we just can’t afford one more day of it.

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