State lawmakers sent Gov. Pat Quinn a spending framework for the
state budget before departing on Thursday.
But in their budget
proposals, lawmakers did not address the fundamental problem
afflicting state finances -- state expenses are far outpacing the
amount of money the state is receiving.
Quinn has advocated a 33 percent tax increase to help backfill
the budget gap, while Republican lawmakers want more scrutiny and
reductions in spending.
Sheila Weinberg, CEO of the watchdog Institute for Truth in
Accounting, said the budget package passed by lawmakers is not only
irresponsible -- it's illegal.
Weinberg believes the General Assembly should not be able to pass
unpaid bills from one fiscal year to the next.
Illinois has about $6 billion in overdue bills to state vendors,
according to the state comptroller's office.
"The constitution does not allow you to do this carry-over of
unpaid bills. Bills have to be paid year to year, and those are
being carried forward," Weinberg said. "We do not believe that
borrowing money is an available revenue source that they can use.
The constitution does require a balanced budget.
Ralph Martire, executive director with the Center for Tax and
Budget Accountability, said lawmakers are more concerned with their
political futures than they are with fixing the state's fiscal
"No elected official in either party is willing to solve these
problems in this election year. … There are a few brave exceptions …
but no one in leadership is showing a willingness to solve the
problems during an election year," he said.
November's general election will see a number of lawmakers and
all constitutional officers on the ballot for voters to consider.
A preliminary CTBA analysis indicates that if Gov. Pat Quinn
signs into law the budget framework approved by lawmakers, the state
would be more than $7 billion in the red.
That figure is based on the difference between recurring revenue
and recurring expenses, as well as $3 billion of revenue expected
only for this fiscal year, such as fund transfers, borrowing against
proceeds from a multiyear tobacco settlement, funds from the federal
stimulus bill and a proposed tax amnesty program.
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Martire said state government requires more revenue in order to
lessen the budget gap. He added that a tax increase that would
provide relief to lower- and middle- income families would be the
sound approach to bridging the state's budget gap.
"No one who is running for government, any office, is being
honest with voters if they say they can solve these problems without
raising taxes. That is dishonest and it can't work mathematically,"
The $7 billion deficit figure does not include one of the bigger
pieces suggested for the budget puzzle.
On Thursday, the Illinois Senate did not vote on a proposed $4
billion borrowing plan with proceeds going to the state's five
public employee pension systems.
Lawmakers don't have to borrow funds to make the pension
contribution, but using $4 billion from state revenues to go toward
state pensions would cause serious cash-flow problems in other areas
of state government, such as education and human services.
Lawmakers could also opt to skip the pension payment, but the
pension systems would then have to sell interest-earning assets and
could lose out on tens of billions of dollars over a number of
Weinberg said Illinois state government needed to fundamentally
change the way it handles its finances.
"Would you consider your budget balanced if you borrowed to pay
your current bills?" she asked. "And would you consider your budget
balanced if you just hid your current bills in the drawer and didn't
Statehouse News; By KEVIN LEE]