Critics say new budget will continue hurting Illinois taxpayers
Illinois lawmakers may have passed a timely budget for the first time in years, but that doesn’t mean it is good, according to some critics.
Approved by a 56-2 margin in the General Assembly, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the $38.5 billion, 1,245-page budget on June 4. The signing came with a lot of congratulations, with every lawmaker recognizing the other or praising Rauner, who did a bit of the same himself and prefaced many of the budget highlights with “since I have become governor” and “my team led that effort.”
“This was great team effort and a bipartisan effort that took many long days and many long hours,” Rauner said.
Rauner highlighted what he called celebratory measures to cut spending in many state departments.
“We saved $1.5 billion in spending that would have been occurring if just left to the process had it been going on the way it was in the past,” Rauner said.
What the governor called great forward progress, the Illinois Policy Institute called budget gimmicks.
“Once again, state lawmakers have kicked the can on making the tough choices necessary to put Illinois on a path toward fiscal health,” according to a May 30 report by the institute, which noted that the Senate was the first to approve a budget that surpasses “realistic revenue projections by as much as $1.5 billion.”
Before state House members voted on the budget on May 30, Rep. David McSweeney (R-Barrington Hills) begged Rauner to reject the budget as the governor had promised that it would only include a 3 percent tax rate and not the 4.95 percent levy it actually has.
“I implore you, governor, to keep your word to the people of Illinois and use your line-item veto, use your reduction veto and stand up for the people once and for all,” McSweeney said.
According to Rauner, the budget addresses some of the most important issues that the state faces. He said the historic reversal of trends in education, including $350 million in annual evidence-based funding and $50 million in early childhood education, will make Illinois schools some of the best in the country. Higher education will also see an increase in funding with state universities handed $25 million more than in the past.
“And now we have a $50 million merit-based scholarship program,” Rauner said.
And the budget only gets better, according to the governor, who praised its bipartisan compromise in several areas, including a $5,000 tax credit for adoption services, a $500 million expansion of the Illinois Innovation Network and Discovery Partners Institute, a $6 million partnership with Quincy Veterans Home, the addition of 100 more state troopers to the cadet class, a $1.6 million appropriation to the opioid epidemic and a public-private partnership for a new port along the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers.
But McSweeney sees it differently.
“We need to do real pension reform,” McSweeney said on May 30. “We have a $130 billion pension liability that’s using a 7 percent rate of return, and if you use a real rate of return, we have a $200 billion problem.”
A Prairie State Wire analysis agrees. According to the report, "between 2007 and 2016, the state incurred $84 billion in debt for its three largest, insolvent pension systems. This money wasn't accounted for in the annual state budget."
Sen. Pamela Althoff (R-McHenry) and Rep. Randy Frese (R-Paloma) concluded the 40-minute long signing ceremony by thanking Rauner and other leaders for all of the bipartisan compromise.
However, the Illinois Policy Institute warned both sides of the aisle before the votes were even cast.
“House members should immediately reject the unfunded spending plan passed by the Senate and adopt a responsible budget in its place,” the institute said in a report. “Doing so would finally send a signal to Illinois residents that lawmakers are serious about ending Illinois’ fiscal crisis.”
Echoing the same train of thought, Mark Glennon, the executive editor and founder of Wirepoints said in an article that “what the legislature appropriates—the $38.5 billion number—is always much less than what they actually spend.”
“It always is,” Glennon said. “That’s how Illinois ends up with unpaid bills year after year.”
McSweeney said that while everyone is congratulating themselves, it is time to think about the taxpayers.
“The taxpayers of this state are getting killed, and this bill will continue the carnage,” McSweeney said.
If Rauner’s attempts to applaud himself and the budget were not enough, minority leaders Sen. William Brady (R-Bloomington) and Rep. Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) also chimed in.
“This governor led that charge, and with that, we were able to develop a product that I think the people of Illinois can be happy about,” Brady said. “Without the governor’s leadership, we wouldn’t be here today.”
Continuing the praise, Durkin also thanked Rauner and the other side of the aisle.
“I have said over and over again, I will negotiate on any issue with the Democrat majority as long as they respect the priorities of the Republican party,” he added.
However, Durkin said that cooperation must continue for the "living and breathing" budget to remains balanced. Like Durkin, Rep. Tom Demmer (R-Dixon) said that even though good faith negotiations were made on a “workable, realistic and balanced” budget, that is hardly enough. He said that lawmakers must “come to the table with the same kind of enthusiasm, same kind of openness and the same kind of bipartisan spirit” on other chronic problems.
“This is a formula for success,” Demmer said.
Rep. Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet) said that when the budget was first presented, it was impassable by $1.5 billion, but lawmakers prioritized spending on education.
Speaking about pensions, Rep. Mark Batinick (R-Plainfield) said that new reforms offer serious savings for years to come, which were accomplished over three years of mundane subject matter hearings.
In addition to McSweeney, other House members who voted against the budget included: Batinick, Peter Breen (R- Lombard), John Cabello (R-Machesney Park), Jerry Costello (D-Smithton), C.D. Davidsmeyer (R-Jacksonville), Anthony DeLuca (D-Penn Hills), Brad Halbrook (R-Shelbyville), Jeanne Ives (R-Wheaton), Jerry Lee Long (R-Streator, Margo McDermed (R-Mokena), Thomas Morrison (R-Palantine), Lindsay Parkhurst (R-Kankakee), Dave Severin (R-Benton), Allen Skillicorn (R-East Dundee), Brian Stewart (R-Freeport), Barbara Wheeler (R-Crystal Lake) and Keith Wheeler (R-Oswego).