The Illinois General Assembly passed a maintenance-level $40 billion state budget Saturday night and early Sunday that would rely heavily on federal funding to close a gaping pandemic-driven deficit. […]
State agencies that have been most affected by the pandemic, such as those dealing with public health and welfare, would see funding increases under the spending plan. […]
The budget would not provide school districts with the $350 million increase in state aid that was set out in a 2018 rewrite of the education funding formula. Districts would instead receive the same amount they received this year. Universities also would be funded at their current levels.
The spending plan that the legislature’s Democratic-led majorities settled on relies on borrowing up to $5 billion from the Federal Reserve next year. The governor has also called on Congress to enact another economic relief package to buttress state budgets, though it remains unclear when – or even if – that federal money will arrive.
“There’s a storm – a giant storm – blowing across our land and blowing across the state of Illinois,” House Majority Leader Greg Harris, D-Chicago, said as he argued against making drastic cuts in government funding to schools, first responders and other government programs.
“We as a legislature and as a state, do we stand up as a bulwark?” Harris said, speaking at a Springfield convention center where the House convened in order to give representatives more space for social distancing. “Do we stand up as a shield to try to shelter people in our communities from the storm? Or do we say, ‘No, we need to retreat, we need to fold in and we need to do less?’”
The budget plan includes $3.8 billion from the federal CARES Act to deal with the coronavirus crisis in the next year, including funding for testing, contact tracing and additional health measures at the state’s prisons, some of which have been subject to coronavirus-related outbreaks.
All told, the Illinois Department of Public Health’s budget would be increased by 144% compared to last year. School funding to the state Board of Education is slightly increased from last year, accounting for $13.2 billion of the state budget. And lawmakers will make the full required payments to the state’s pension funds – more than $10 billion that’s owed to the vastly underfunded systems that give retirement benefits to teachers, university and state employees.
* Capitol News Illinois…
The $42.8 billion budget keeps spending roughly flat from a year ago despite revenue for next year decreasing by an unknown number of billions and the potential of even further economic devastation should COVID-19 see a resurgence in the fall that coincides with a virulent flu season. […]
“The ability for an administration to engage in emergency rulemaking and have control of more than $7 billion of state funds, with only broad strokes, broad umbrellas of programs and allocations for those dollars, I think should give members of this body pause,” Demmer said.
Rep. Gregory Harris, D-Chicago, said during debate the fact that the Legislature passed a full budget instead of a lump sum appropriation showed that it was exercising more oversight than other states were doing for their governors.
* Mike Miletich at WSIL TV…
“If we’re going to balance this budget, I would rather not do it on the backs of people who would lose their jobs if we were to cut money to our schools, cut money to our first responders,” said House Majority Leader Greg Harris (D-Chicago). “I don’t want thousands of people more out of work.”
Harris notes there is a “huge” revenue shortfall, and it’s still unknown when the federal government will discuss sending the additional funding to states.
“The ability for an administration to engage in emergency rule-making and have control of more than $7 billion of state funds with only broad strokes, broad umbrellas of programs and allocations for those dollars, I think should give members of this body pause,” said House Deputy Republican Leader Tom Demmer.
He adds the budget is only balanced “on a wing and a prayer.” The Dixon native emphasized it relies on $5 billion in borrowing or “magical revenue” coming from the federal government “with no strings attached.”
Democratic State Sen. Andy Manar spoke for many when he said that “we made a choice not to present a budget to this chamber that slashes the state budget at a time when we’re dealing with a global pandemic.”
“That was our choice. That was a simple choice for me because the last thing we need to be doing is cutting public health programs, cutting health care programs, cutting school funding, cutting programs for small businesses, or cutting pensions or laying off state employees,” he said. […]
Despite the obvious risks, Pritzker said he is putting his faith in the federal government “to do the right thing.”
“This isn’t something special for Illinois, it really is a problem that every state is experiencing,” he said of his desire to “get dollars from the federal government to support our state.”
Other priorities include increased unemployment eligibility and expanding workers compensation protections as well as $500 million to rental and mortgage assistance, help with utilities and homelessness prevention. […]
The new budget includes over $600 million in grants for small businesses and more than $900 million to the Illinois Department of Public Health for COVID-19 testing programs and contact tracing over the next year
That was all from federal funds.
The troubled Department of Children and Family Services will see a $126 million increase in funding over last year, which represents a 10 percent boost. Small areas of state government like the Illinois Arts Council, State Police Merit Board, and Prisoner Review Board will see decreases in the tens of thousands of dollars, while the community mental health services will see a $10 million decrease from $134 million in funding last year. […]
While the budget modestly trims some line items, the state is authorized to spend $970 million more than it did last year, which State Sen. Dan McConchie (R-Hawthorne Woods) blasted as irresponsible given the economic downturn Illinois is experiencing along with the rest of the country.
“In that environment, you would think that we would be cutting spending on non-essentials as so many families have been forced to do across the state,” McConchie said. “But no, we don’t reduce the spending given the low drop in revenue that we are expecting.”
McConchie said the General Assembly would’ve been better off approving a short-term budget to keep the state operating until the full economic impact of the virus and accompanying shutdown is known.
A short-term budget would also be a punt, and likely encourage a ratings downgrade. They can come back in the fall and readjust as necessary.
The $42.8 billion is larger on paper than last year’s budget, but Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, a lead budget negotiator said much of the increase is to repay short term borrowing that was needed to keep the state afloat.
“It’s very much of a status quo budget. To keep it where it is now,” said Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, a principal architect of the budget. “There’s a few places that there’s some increases for critical areas that couldn’t keep up, like DCFS. But it is pretty much keep everything as is.” […]
“We have done nothing to try to cut anything,” said Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer. “I feel we are using COVID as a reason to continue to be irresponsible. Anyone who votes for this is voting for irresponsibility.”
As Harris noted in debate, the budgeted amounts are maximum spending levels. Pritzker is “free” to cut as much as he wants within the law (including court rulings). So, yeah, Davidsmeyer was right. The GA basically punted it all to the governor.
* Senate President Don Harmon was asked about whether it was responsible to pass a budget that is so heavily dependent on borrowing…
There is so much we don’t know today that we hope to know in a few months. We don’t know the depths of the economic hit we’ve taken from this virus. We don’t know how much more we’re going to have to spend in order to respond to it. We don’t know whether the voters are going to approve a constitutional amendment in November. We don’t know how the federal government is going to respond, although I believe that they will. And we don’t know who is going to be in charge in Washington for the next four years. In the next several months, we’re going to know all of that, and that will give us much better information about how to put together a durable state budget
House Majority Leader Greg Harris, D-Chicago, in turn acknowledged the plan “may not be the world’s best budget.” And he pointed out that Republicans largely fought alongside former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner during a historic budget impasse.
“But at least we have a budget,” Harris said. “And to be lectured by some people who for two years let another governor run this thing with zero budget and running up a $17 billion backlog of bills, is an interesting experience,” Harris said, before the House approved the bill 62-47.
* Gov. Pritzker was asked if he’d be “comfortable” if Bruce Rauner was wielding the same authority as the GA gave him…
Well no, that’s why I ran against him and beat him.
The problem with giving governors (or presidents, for that matter) so much authority is that every now and then (more often in Illinois) the voters elect somebody who can’t be trusted with it.
Much more here.