SPRINGFIELD  —  Illinois, already facing a $9-billion deficit and a $130-billion pension debt, is moving to write checks for $2.1 billion in mostly new spending.

By Benjamin Yount

SPRINGFIELD  —  Illinois, already facing a $9-billion deficit and a $130-billion pension debt, is moving to write checks for $2.1 billion in mostly new spending.

The Illinois House today OK’d a supplemental appropriation bill that will spend $675 million on new construction projects, and send a little more than $30 million to the state’s beleaguered mental health and child and family service agencies.

“The executive branch asked for many, many million more,” said State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago. “This represents a pretty austere response to spend more.”

Currie defends the new spending, saying it is necessary.

Illinois owes more than $1 billion in employee health care bills dating back months. The new spending plan would pay $550 million, about half of what is owed.

The proposal would use unexpected dollars from higher gas tax receipts to pay for a host of construction projects, but some are going to raise eyebrows.

“This does not pass the smell test,” said State Rep. Ed Sullivan, R-Mundelein.

Sullivan takes issue with the $1 million for a children’s museum in Springfield, the $115,000 for a basketball hall of fame in Danville, and smaller items like a brand new $50,000 street sweeper for the village of North Riverside.

Most of those projects were included in the 2009 construction plan, and are just now being started.

State Rep. Darlene Senger, R-Naperville, said Illinois should pay its bills and send money to mental health programs, but the state should not be spending money that it doesn’t have to spend.

“We have an $8 billion-plus pension payment this year,” Senger said. “And it’s really concerning me that we are spending every dime that we can find when we know that we have to make cuts again.”

But it is not just the amount that is being spent, it is how the Democrat-controlled House is going about spending it.

The new spending plan has grown or shrunk several times during the past few days, from as little as $714 million to as much as $3 billion. The new spending plan, and its $2.1 billion price tag, was not finalized until just before the House vote.

“We are on the fiscal cliff” said State Rep. Patti Bellock, R-Hinsdale. “This process is like hitting a moving target. It’s in, it’s out, it’s in, it’s out all in a 48-hour period.”

Bellock said most lawmakers would support spending for the Department of Children and Family Services and mental health programs, but she believes the $2.1 billion in new spending sends a “horrible” message to Illinois voters and the bond-rating houses that have downgraded Illinois’ credit in recent months

State Rep. Scott Drury, D- Highwood, agreed.

“There is a complete lack of trust that the public has in our government, Drury said. “And when you watch what’s going on here, it’s clear why that’s happening.”

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  1. Gifts

    What is wrong with democrats repaying their friends for their loyal support. After all, one hand should wash the other and there are a lot of dirty hands in Springfield.

  2. Spending

    Our elected officials do whatever they want-whenever they want.Our state is in a financial crisis and we continue to spend due to loyality. Our children will suffer most. Is that what everyone wants? Only the rich members elected to Springfield will survive this disaster. Daniel Bliss where are you now? Your campaign was about fiscal responsibility. We elected you because of your ideals and youth. We thought you would help bring change. Why do you not speak out now?? Or are you just one of THEM!

  3. Your pandering offends me
    Let’s see:

    $2.1 billion in new spending. Of that:
    $675 million: new construction.
    $1 million: Springfield children’s museum
    $115,000: Danville Basketball Hall of Fame
    $50,000: North Riverside street sweeper.

    That’s $676,165,000. Out of $2,100,000,000.

    What about the other $1,423,825,000? That’s an awful lot of un-itemized dollars in your story.

    JUST ONCE, could someone write a story about government budgets that ADDS UP? Are you afraid that our eyes will glaze over? News flash: this stuff is IMPORTANT, and if our eyes are glazing over, we need to practice studying it to increase our tolerance. Because having ALL the numbers will reveal many very interesting things which, if they were made public, would be very unlikely to pass into law.

    Perhaps, as an instrument of the free press, Evanston Now could do its part in shedding such needed light. Maybe JUST ONCE, as a kind of trial of our ability to absorb actual information and act on it as citizens. We can’t do it without you. PLEASE DO YOUR JOB!

    1. Math

      Hi Chris,

      I agree that the Illinois Watchdog story would have been more complete if it had provided — in summary form — an enumeration of the total spending package that would have permitted a reader to sum the items to get the total spending amount.

      However, you need to realize that there were probably a very large number of individual items that may have been difficult to adequately describe in a few words.

      If "other" would have been good enough for you, that would have been easy to do.

      We're not trying to pander. We're trying to provide useful information without drowning you in excessive detail.

      — Bill

      1. Re: Math
        Hi Bill,

        Fair enough. I think itemizing at the level of “construction” would be pretty good — broad categories and all. Even better: How ’bout a link to the document the legislators were working with — that way we can all dig into the details to each of our respective levels of tolerance? To me it’s about the mechanics of transparency and open-ness, shining a light on these details. If that document is not publicly available, THAT would be very good information.

        Thanks for the reply.


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