Friday, April 30, 2010
 
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Lawmakers fear deja vu with budget

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[April 30, 2010]  SPRINGFIELD -- Lawmakers are getting a sense of deja vu with regard to this year's budget.

HardwareLast year, the General Assembly and Gov. Pat Quinn passed a budget using a combination of billions of dollars in borrowing as well as millions of dollars in fund transfers to help meet some of the state's obligations.

Quinn signed off on the budget after his appeals for a tax increase fell short in the legislature. The Illinois Senate passed a tax increase proposal, but the Illinois House decided to ignore it.

This year, the budget deficit is deeper, and Quinn is again calling for more revenue, through what he's calling a "surcharge" aimed at funding schools. But lawmakers give the 1 percentage point increase in the income tax a slim chance of passage.

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State Rep. Pat Verschoore, D-Milan, said his colleagues and the governor are going to struggle with tough decisions during the final days of the legislative session.

"I think it's going to be much more difficult this year because last year we cut some money out of the budget from the service agencies and schools. If we go as deep (in cuts) as the governor is talking about, it's really going to be hard on the schools," he said.

But state Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, doesn't think Quinn is going to go through with cuts to education. Murphy thinks this budget will include nominal cuts while relying heavily on borrowing.

"One of the proposals that's being discussed is bonding out tobacco proceeds. Seventeen years' worth of tobacco proceeds -- we're going to take the money upfront and get $1 billion. It's going to cost us $2.25 billion by the time we're done paying it back. We've maxed out all the other credit cards, so this is a new one we're getting. It's not responsible," he said.

State Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, said he doesn't like the state to borrow money, because the state has to pay it back with interest.

"You borrow $6 billion, you've got to pay interest. So who does that? The taxpayers do that," he said. "The bottom line is that (taxpayers) are really getting hurt."

Illinois faces a $13 billion budget shortfall and faces a structural deficit -- state expenditures are outpacing revenues coming into the state.

Lawmakers have neglected the structural deficit for years, which has worsened in part because of the national recession.

The General Assembly isn't expected to fully address the deficit by May 7, the scheduled end of the legislative session.

State Rep. Chuck Jefferson, D-Rockford, said an income tax increase is a difficult vote to make before November's general election.

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Jefferson added that lawmakers cannot afford to think about their political futures when considering a tax increase.

"Sometimes we have to think beyond that. This is the right thing to do. Let's do it, let's bite the bullet and suffer the consequences of whatever might come," he said.

But state Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, said state government has to first implement controls in spending, pay freezes and more furlough days.

"We have to take at least baby steps. Talk to the electorate, after you've done those types of things, about some type of revenue enhancement down the road. Have the debate then," he said.

Many lawmakers think they will pass a temporary budget with enough money for state agencies and programs to stay afloat, before addressing the structural deficit next year.

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State Rep. Jim Watson, R-Jacksonville, is still hopeful he and his colleagues can come up with substantial solutions.

"It's painful to watch this and know this train wreck's coming, and the folks that are vested with leadership right now have opted not to address those issues," he said.

[Illinois Statehouse News; By KEVIN LEE]

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