SPRINGFIELD — Going line-by-line through the Illinois budget could save the state from sinking into financial abyss, according to lawmakers and critics.

By Mary J. Cristobal

SPRINGFIELD — Going line-by-line through the Illinois budget could save the state from sinking into financial abyss, according to lawmakers and critics.

Illinois lawmakers and Gov. Pat Quinn have until May 31 to implement next year’s budget, which begins in July. In the past two years, the General Assembly has handed Quinn a lump sum budget. But the General Assembly is going back to years of old practice — a line-by-line budgeting approach for 2012.

Former State Rep. William Black compared it with house expenditures, “You can’t buy a car with grocery money” he said.

“They’re trying to work out the old way of appropriating money — here’s how much money we have, and here’s where we’re going to put what money we have,” said Black, a Republican from Danville who served for over 20 years.

“And if they could get that done, it could start the process of putting Illinois back in a position where maybe in two or three years — believe it or not — maybe we can get caught up on all of our bills and start to chop away that debt that’s just killing the state.”

Within five weeks, both chambers of the General Assembly have to iron out the final kinks in the state budget and agree on a budget plan. There are three versions of the budget in discussion -— the House version with $33.2 billion; the Senate version with $34.3 billion; and the governor’s office with $33.9 billion.

The state’s unpaid bills could balloon to $8 billion by the end of June, according to state Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka. The current budget deficit is $9 billion, according to the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget. And the state’s pension system is unfunded by $75.7 billion, according to a March report by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability.

Illinois hasn’t had a line-by-line budget since 1999, said State Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley.

“Gov. (James) Thompson and Gov. (Jim) Edgar had line-by-line budgets until the recession in 1991, and at that time the first 1,100-page one budget bill instead of 40 budget bills were up here,” said Mautino, who’s been in the House since 1991. “And it was basically placed on the representatives’ desks a couple of hours before a time to vote on it, and it was passed, and then after that there was never a time where you didn’t have those very big tough-to-decipher budget bills.”

The two governors, George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich, preceding Quinn worked with lump sum budgets that were separated by state agencies.

“It was only in the last couple of years that we did a lump-sum budgeting, and that was instigated by the dominant party, the Democrats, who simply didn’t want to make the decisions on where cuts needed to be made, and gave that job to the governor,” said State Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield. “I believe it is our constitutional obligation to work hand-in-hand with the governor in consummating a budget.”

Quinn has said that he didn’t want to be handed a lump sum state budget.

But that may not be his choice. Last year’s General Assembly passed a law that would require the line-by-line budget approach for the 2012 state budget, Mautino said.

Democratic State Senate expert, State Sen. Donne Trotter, D-Chicago, said they are aware of the cuts that need to be made, and that those cuts would hurt.

“However, we recognize that we also have to look at how we do business as well,” said Trotter, who’s been a senator since 1993. “So we’re looking at every corner on how we can reduce, cut and eliminate.”
Kent Redfield, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Springfield, said balancing any budget involves tough decisions.

“If they get to something that’s close to being balanced, which appropriates all of the money and makes the choices -— then this is going to be the toughest budget that we’ve done in decades,” Redfield said.

“We’d have to go back to the early Edgar administration where we’re doing really serious cuts and services, and really making hard decisions.”

Those tough decisions may bring in bipartisanship for the budget process, according to Bomke, who has been in office since 1995.

“It is perhaps a little bit more differently this year, part of that could be there are a lot of tough decisions going to have to be made, and I don’t know if the majority party wants to take full control of making those decisions, they want participation by the minority party -— the Republicans,” he said.

In the past 10 years, the General Assembly has been able to pass a budget before the spring deadline, except when Blagojevich kept lawmakers in Springfield year-round in 2007, said Bomke.

Trotter said the General Assembly intends to meet the May 31 deadline.

“Constitutionally we don’t have to be through until June 30, because July 1 is the change of our fiscal year,” Trotter said. “So we do have a month cushion before governmental operations start crashing, but we don’t plan on going that far.”

But political expert Redfield said it’s more than just meeting the deadline -— voters would be grading lawmakers’ leadership by next year’s election.

“So there’s this huge pressure on the Democrats to get it done,” Redfield said. “And the Republicans have to decide, ‘Are they going to use their leverage that they have to try to get agreements with the idea of getting a budget?’ or ‘Do they want to blow the process up…get more out of the process and make the Democrats look bad?'”

Leave a comment

The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published.