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Water, food will be keys to economy, Topinka says

NORMAL, Ill. - Illinois is poised to be a bigger player in the global economy because it has plenty of two key resources: food and water, state Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka said Friday.

Topinka, speaking on the final day of a two-day economic development summit that will help guide Gov.-elect Rod Blagojevich's economic policies, contended future wars will be fought over water, not oil.

That means the state's ample water supply from the Great Lakes is an "incredible resource" that can help lure business and industry, she said.

In addition, a growing world population increasingly will rely on Illinois crops for food, Topinka said.

"That makes us a player," Topinka said. "What is power? Power is food. Power is water. And we have both."

But in the short term, reviving a stagnant state economy will require teamwork between Republicans and Democrats, government and business and union and management, said Topinka and state Rep. Dan Rutherford, R-Pontiac.

"Government can't magically create an unlimited number of jobs," Topinka said.

The state can help, however, by reducing health care costs, funding education and cutting back government regulation of business, Rutherford said.

"Small business drives our economy," he said. "We can't keep passing mandates that burden them."

Stimulating the economy will be a challenge because the state also will be wrestling with a budget deficit that could grow to $4 billion by next summer, Topinka said.

Balancing the budget will require "horrible decisions" on cuts to public aid, mental health, corrections and other services, she said.

But she said the state also needs to follow the lead of private business, which has better responded to economic changes through downsizing, outsourcing and streamlining operations.

Topinka suggested merging the state treasurer's and comptroller's offices, which she said could save $3 million to $10 million within six years by eliminating duplicated services.

She said Illinois isn't alone in its budget crisis. More than 40 states are facing serious revenue shortfalls because of the nation's sagging economy, she said.

"The only ones not having trouble have more sheep than people," Topinka said.
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