July 1, 2009
It’s not unusual for Illinois to start its fiscal year on July 1 without an approved budget. Neither is it unusual for the Governor and legislative leaders to procrastinate in negotiations like a child dawdling on the way to school. Over the past five years we have not had a budget agreement by the start of the fiscal year. In 2007, the legislature met every month until a budget agreement was reached in January 2008, six months into the fiscal year. Therefore you may be wondering why all the concern about the FY2010 budget disagreements?
The Governor has been given legislation that appropriates funding for about $24 billion which is all the anticipated revenue for the year. The Governor proposed a budget in March that called for $28.3 billion in general revenue spending. Is this enough money with effective stewardship, spending cuts and program reforms to get through the year? Every unit of government, family, and business has been scaling back in this economic downturn.
You might excuse the Governor’s reaction to the prospects of a smaller budget because this is 1) his first budget as Governor or 2) that his advisors are equally inexperienced in state budgeting or 3) that he had his heart set on an income tax increase. Regardless, he has made just about every mistake a Governor can make in negotiations with legislative leaders including the czar of state government, Speaker Madigan.
To use the clichéd phrase “we are in uncharted waters now” wondering what the governor will do with the budget he was given. Will he veto it and call the legislature into more special sessions like Governor Blagojevich; spend it as if it were a partial year budget and come back to the legislature for more when it runs out; or shut down nearly every local program for the disabled, mentally ill, elderly, preschool child, abused person and youth needing early intervention as he threatened? We won’t have to wait long for an answer.
Quinn’s Words and Actions Disconnect
Speaking to an unusual joint special session of the Illinois General Assembly this week, Governor Quinn reiterated the need to make tough choices to balance the budget and that everyone must compromise and cooperate. The Governor is a genuine, honest individual but his actions over the past few days demonstrate that he hasn’t yet taken his message to heart.
The Governor is not making priority choices when he sent out contracts to the most basic human service providers offering only partial or no funding for their programs. He didn’t show much cooperation when his agencies are silent about how local mental health and home-care providers are suppose to end their services July 1 or what their clients should do to exist without the help. The Governor didn’t show much compromise when he opposed a temporary budget while awaiting legislator suggestions to reform Medicaid and pensions, improve our job market or cut ineffective government spending.
Governor Quinn says he wants to do no harm to our most fragile citizens yet they are the ones who will not receive services in July. He says he wants to do what’s right and in the common good yet he focuses only on an income tax increase that fails to fully fund what he proposes to spend.
I am willing to work with the Governor and legislators in a bipartisan manner to reach a balanced budget that sets priorities, makes tax dollars work harder and fulfills the role of government to its citizens. If it takes all summer, like the Governor said, I’ll be there too.
Pension Obligation Note Concept Fails
As legislators returned to Springfield this week it appeared authority would be given to borrow $2.2 billion to make a full pension payment and use cash on hand designated for the pension payment to instead pay for some of the Governor’s proposed cuts in vital human services. SB415 passed the house by an overwhelming margin but fell short of passage by two votes in the Senate.
Under ordinary conditions, few of us in the General Assembly would support such a band aid approach to funding critical needs. However, with the realization that this plan will forestall massive social-service cuts, many of us were willing to support this idea during these atypical economic times until other spending reforms can be adopted.
The Governor had supported the idea over the past few weeks but he twisted a number of senator’s arms to vote against the plan in the final vote. This is just another example of inconsistent behavior by the Governor that has legislative leaders and legislators baffled.
Legislation Corrected and Veto Approved
Amidst the budget discussions this week, the legislature approved several bills to correct errors in previous legislation and accept the Governor’s amendatory veto.
SB349 passed to clean up language in a revenue bill authorizing funding for one of the capital bills. Since the bill relies on video gaming, the correction clarified background checks, revenue distribution and provisions requested by the Illinois Gaming Board.
SB1221 appropriated funding for capital projects and some operation budgets. This legislation was in response to errors and omissions in previous bills.
SB1905 enacts reforms and continues the Health Facilities Planning Board’s regulation of expansion and remodeling to hospitals and nursing homes. The Governor’s veto was upheld removing a new provision that would have paid board members up to $90,000 for serving when they currently serve with no compensation.
Pain of Reducing State Spending
The past month has brought about a great deal of discussion on reducing state spending and making painful but appropriate cuts to programs. An email from Dave McClure, Executive Director for the Youth Service Bureau of Illinois Valley, drove home the realities of Governor Quinn’s proposed spending cuts.
Dave eloquently reflected on the fact that the true pain in these budget decisions lies with people like three foster children that he was personally involved with helping find a pre-adoptive home.
In this particular situation, finding a permanent home had proven difficult. The boys had no family that could be deemed fit to care for them, so a couple that had previously stood by these kids stepped forward to assume the responsibility of caring for and raising these three boys.
It would be wishful thinking to conclude that these adoptive parents are well-to-do doctor, lawyer or professional types. The reality is that like most adoptive parents, this couple is a typical middle to lower income family with great love and knowledge of what these boys need. Without state services, however, these parents are forced to decide whether they can afford to take care of these children out of their own pocket. The reality is that many cannot.
As we continue to move forward on the budget, I will continue to keep Dave’s story in mind. This story drives home the point that we must continue to prioritize our spending and live within our means. After all, we owe it to these three boys and countless others like them.
I hope you will remember and celebrate our freedoms, rights and privileges given to us in the United States during the approaching birthday of our nation.
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