state-budget

SPRINGFIELD — It would take a mathematical leap of faith to call Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposed $35.6 billion budget balanced.

By Benjamin Yount

SPRINGFIELD — It would take a mathematical leap of faith to call Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposed $35.6 billion budget balanced.

“In previous budgets we showed how much we’d like to spend, not how much money we have to spend,” state Sen. Dan Kotowski, D-Park Ridge, said.

But the spending plan from Quinn does not eliminate Illinois’ current $10 billion backlog of unpaid bills, and the budget leaves the state’s $130 billion pension deficit untouched.

“Where is money going to come from to pay those unpaid bills?” Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka wondered after Quinn’s speech Wednesday. “If it’s going to be a year late, or partially (paid), that is not paying the bills.”

Topinka said she has about $7 billion in old bills on her desk and nowhere near enough money to pay them. She figures another $3 billion in bills have not been sent to her office.

“It rounds out to about $10 billion, and that’s where we were last year” Topinka said. “You know we did not get any benefit from that tax increase, which was billed as a way to pay old bills.”

Illinois raised the income tax for both families and corporations in 2011. Lawmakers at the time said the new money would go for the state’s old bills. Instead, all of the tax increase dollars have gone to pay Illinois’ sky-rocketing pension debt.

Quinn’s budget sets aside nearly $8 billion for the next pension payment but fails to address the pension deficit.

“Today our budget is being squeezed more than ever,” Quinn said in a nod toward pension reform.

The Quinn administration has said pension reform frees up some dollars, but budget planners are not counting on that.

Quinn’s budget team is, however, eyeing the local government share of Illinois’ income and gasoline taxes as a way to pay down some old bills.

“They are at some risk,” state Sen Mike Jacobs said. “The (tax dollars) that the state has collected and given to the local may not go to the cities…You know, the state doesn’t have it to give.”

The Illinois Municipal League calculates the local share of Illinois’ taxes breaks down to $129.60 per person, per city, this year. Municipal League Executive Director Larry Frang said that should increase to just more than $135 per person, per city, in the next budget.

“How much heat do lawmakers want to take for (taking) that money?” Frang asked. “Illinois’ budget is, however, many billions in debt. Is it worth that much political heat for $80 (million) or $90 million?”

Kotowski said close to $1 billion, such as the local tax share, is automatically transferred out of the state budget each year.

“A billion dollars for line items that aren’t scrutinized,” Kotoski added. “There is no reason it should be protected.”

But Topinka warned Quinn about taking money from local governments to pay the state’s bills.

“Passing around bills is like passing around the Old Maid card,” Topinka said. “Whoever gets stuck with it last attempts to pay. That’s not going to solve anything.”

You can contact Benjamin Yount at Ben@IllinoisWatchdog.org.

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