No Exit Strategy from Illinois’ Budget Standoff
View as PDF CHICAGO – Eight members of Illinois’ General Assembly met on Monday at a forum to discuss the state’s prolonged budget impasse. Although the legislators agreed in general that reforms are necessary to break Illinois’ budget gridlock – now in its 10th month – there was no indication that the Illinois General Assembly, or these officials in particular, had formed a clear exit strategy.
The Illinois Budget: Defining & Funding the Essential Priorities, organized by The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform and Truth in Accounting, featured Representatives Bellock (R), Crespo (D), Davis (D), Harris (D), Morrison (R), and Pritchard (R), as well as Senators Murphy (R) and Steans (D).
Sen. Murphy and Rep. Morrison both called for amending the Illinois Constitution’s government-employee pension protection clause to solve the state’s towering unfunded government pension liabilities, which was the best measure offered at the forum, although also the one with the greatest difficulty to pass. The most worrying proposals for taxpayers were only abstract, and the suggestions varied, including increasing sales taxes or expanding the sales tax base, a graduated state income tax, hiking the state income tax, and imposing a new income tax on retirement benefits.
Tax hikes, however, will only worsen Illinois’ economic standing at a time when there is an opportunity for systemic reform of the state government.
It’s commendable for these members of the Illinois General Assembly to voice their concerns over the broken budgeting process in Springfield and speak out against their leadership. But words cannot compare to the very concerning numbers facing Illinois taxpayers, like a $10 billion deficit by summer, Illinois recording its 14th straight budget deficit, and the lowest credit ratings and the worst-funded government pension system in the country.
As related by the legislators, the degeneration of politics in Springfield is alarming, yet unsurprising; like a low-intensity conflict of news conferences, press statements and canceled meetings since Governor Pat Quinn (D) was thrown out of office by Illinoisans in favor of Bruce Rauner. The two entrenched sides, Speaker of the Illinois House Michael Madigan (D) and Governor Bruce Rauner (R), are both steadfast in their opposition to the other.
“I think this has been portrayed largely as a battle of wills between the governor and the speaker,” said Sen. Murphy. “And the reason for that is because it largely is,” drawing laughs from the crowd.
Madigan is protective of the political machine he has built while pillaging Illinois taxpayers for the last half-century, so he is willing to play hostage-taker over the budget with the constituency groups he has fostered, from teachers and colleges to government employees and social services organizations. But Rauner is willing to play the long-game, too, and seems quite ready to stake his governorship on reversing decades of cronyism and mismanagement throughout Illinois’ state government.
Taxpayers must be vigilant in holding members of the Illinois General Assembly accountable, especially at this unprecedented time without a state budget and as we approach the new fiscal year. Now is the time that legislators could propose the most dangerous solutions to the state’s financial crises, including hiking the state income tax or imposing a new, devastating income tax on retirement benefits.
If this forum was any indication of what’s currently happening – or not – in Springfield, then Illinois taxpayers should be distressed. There is no consensus developing to solve the budget impasse. The FY2016 gridlock could possibly be prolonged past the November elections and well into the FY2017 budget battle. All sides are at a standoff and there is no exit strategy, so taxpayers must make their voices heard and the politicians in Springfield react.