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Editorial: Illinois can’t afford to delay fixing its budget

A 'PensiPromise' sign is seen as Illinois state unimembers supporters rally support for fair pensireform rotundrIllinois State Capitol Thursday Jan.

A "Pension Promise" sign is seen as Illinois state union members and supporters rally in support for fair pension reform in the rotundra at the Illinois State Capitol Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013 in Springfield Ill. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

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Updated: February 5, 2013 6:22AM

Crises always are looming in the state Capitol. But this is different: The state’s financial bleeding is so bad it’s become Illinois’ biggest crisis in a lifetime. Yet with only five days left in the so-called lame-duck legislative session, nothing has happened.

That won’t do.

Almost a year ago, we were hearing that reforms to put the state on a solid fiscal track would be in place by the end of the session in May. When that didn’t happen, we were told to wait for the veto session in the fall. In the fall, we were told something would happen in January. But now that January has rolled around, we’re starting to hear that maybe we can wait until May again.

We can’t.

Illinois has to find a way to match its revenues with its expenditures.

Illinois’ $95 billion pension debt is crowding out spending for almost everything else, including education, health care and human services. The state has $8 billion in unpaid bills.

On Thursday, some civic groups tried to revive lawmakers’ interest in the pension crisis, urging them not to be distracted by other top issues, such as gun safety and gay marriage.

But now it’s starting to look like time may run out with no significant action on any of those issues, although gay marriage did pass out of committee Thursday.

It’s a thorny problem. The state Constitution prohibits the diminishment of benefits, so any measure that cuts pensions will end up in court. The bill favored by the civic groups that rallied Thursday doesn’t appear to meet the constitutional test, although it does include thoughtful ideas we’d like to see in whatever bill finally goes to the governor.

But just because there’s no simple fix is no reason to delay. The Legislature needs to roll up its sleeves and act.

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