Arc and Why The State’s Stealth Budget Crisis Is Real
Behind the scenes budget discussions are taking place but could fall apart if the General
Assembly overrides the Governor’s veto of an AFSCME bill today.
We need Legislators and the Governor to focus on the real priorities for the state which
are new revenue and a responsible state budget.
Eric Zorn is right on with his commentary in today’s Chicago Tribune.
Why the state’s stealth budget crisis is real
What budget crisis? All summer we’ve been hearing about the stalemate in
Springfield and the threat of a government shutdown as the legislature and the
governor continue to fail to appropriate spending on vital programs for the fiscal year
that began July 1.
And all summer we’ve seen life go on pretty much as normal.
Public schools will get their state money and are opening for the year on time. State-run
offices, such as driver’s license facilities, are keeping normal hours, as are Illinois’ parks.
Retirees are getting their pension checks. Mass transit is as on time as it ever was. The
Illinois State Fair even went on as scheduled.
And the courts have ordered that funding continue for many human service programs,
such as Medicaid, foster care support and protection for abused and neglected children.
A report from the Illinois Senate Democrats recently estimated that, due to judicial
decrees and other “agreements and arrangements” among elected officials, 89.4
percent of the state’s usual bills are being covered even without the formal
appropriations of an operating budget.
Most of the calamitous effects of slashed funding to not-for-profit agencies in the
outstanding 10.6 percent that rely on state funding to serve some of our most vulnerable
citizens have, so far, been largely hypothetical. The state has been paying them money
still owed from the last fiscal year.
Most higher-education institutions, also left in the lurch, have so far been able to
minimize the impact of state funding shortfalls by moving money around.
Accordingly, the howls of outrage have been muted. Demands that our lawmakers
strike a compromise spending deal lack the urgency even to keep them in session
It was actually big news last week that the Illinois Lottery is postponing payouts to
winners of more than $25,000 — not exactly a heart-tugging story.
What budget crisis?
This budget crisis: Due to all these analgesic deals and decrees, Illinois is now
spending at roughly the old rate while taking in tax revenue at the new, lower rate.
This puts the state in the same situation it was earlier this year when the Democrat-
controlled General Assembly allowed income-tax rates to fall 25 percent on New Year’s
Day even though the Democrats’ spending plan through June assumed a continuation
of the higher rates.
Lawmakers and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner were mostly able to patch that
estimated $1.6 billion hole with one-time fixes and other legerdemain.
But the hole is opening again. Estimates are that Illinois is on pace to spend about $38
billion in this fiscal year and take in only $33 billion.
So every day that goes by, the budget cuts and tax increases that will ultimately be
required to bring the books into balance, as the state constitution requires, are
becoming more severe.
“There are no long-term savings as a result of this budget impasse,” said Laurence
Msall, president of the Civic Federation, a nonpartisan budget watchdog organization.
“We’re spending enormous amounts of money that we don’t have, and the longer it
goes on, the more painful the legislature’s remaining options become.”
Democratic state Sen. Daniel Biss of Evanston described current state spending as
“an insane patchwork quilt of incomprehensible nonsense” that no one in government
seems truly to have a handle on and that will require increasingly painful measures to
Republicans don’t disagree: “Each and every day that passes without a budget is
another day in the wrong direction,” said Rep. Ron Sandack, R-Downers Grove, on
WTTW-Ch. 11 Monday night. It leads to “more fiscal chaos and financial insecurity.”
This hurts everyone, not just the poor, the sick and otherwise distressed who will be first
to feel the stings now that program money is drying up. It hurts employers. It hurts
employees. It hurts students. It hurts the elderly. I will not go on.
And it underscores the need for Rauner to focus squarely on taxes and spending. It
requires him to set aside for later his anti-union agenda and other items on his wish list
and negotiate an agreement to prevent us from quietly but inevitably falling deeper and
deeper into the hole that all sides have conspired to create.