Senate Week in Review: Deciding How to Spend Your Money

April 12, 2018
What will the budget agreement between the Legislative and Executive branches of state government look like? How does government plan to use your hard-earned tax dollars in the next budget year starting July 1? How will Illinois’ ongoing fiscal crisis impact the budget process?
These are foundational questions and issues yet to be answered as lawmakers return to the Capitol Tuesday, April 10 for the second half of the spring session following a three-week break.
Budget Hearings
During the break, the Senate’s two budget committees each met once. I am a member of the Appropriations II Committee, which focuses on elementary and secondary education, higher education, constitutional officers, and various executive agencies and boards. We met at the Capitol on Thursday, April 5. During the hearing, the Committee heard the budget requests of the University of Illinois, the state’s Civil Service Commission, Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), the Agriculture Department, and other agencies.
The U of I can be a wonderful business and job creator. New businesses are developed each year through the research and development that occurs on campus. How we keep these businesses in Illinois, help them grow and hire Illinois citizens were among the topics we discussed. 
Changing the business atmosphere of the state in areas like workers’ compensation, reasonable taxation and legal liability must happen so new ideas and new companies can survive here and provide our families with jobs. It’s also critical to keep our universities, such as the University of Illinois, affordable for Illinois families. I encouraged the university leadership to keep costs under control so they could provide more opportunities for students.
Other budget topics at the hearing included the long-shuttered Eagle Creek Resort at Lake Shelbyville. We were told by IDNR there is a renewed effort to reopen the resort. When I first came to the Senate in 2009, Eagle Creek was one of the first concerns raised by constituents. State government has had a difficult time finding the right vendor to manage the facility. I also asked Agriculture Department Director Raymond Poe about the state’s medical marijuana program and whether any of those involved in the cultivation and distribution of the marijuana were also registered lobbyists. The Department oversees cultivation centers licensed to produce the drug. I have long raised concerns over potential conflicts of interest for those involved financially in the program and who also helped establish the program. I requested a list of cultivation owners last year and never heard a word. I was promised a list at the hearing. I look forward to getting it soon. While the agency was unable to say whether conflicts of interests exist today, and whether or not they are legal, I think the issue raises important questions that need an answer.
Our budget hearings will continue each and every week through the end of May. Hopefully, we will have a balanced budget – a constitutional budget – to present to Illinois taxpayers. Unfortunately, the state’s track record is not impressive.
Pattern of Budget Failures
Illinois must end its year-after-year budget failures and return to common-sense, fiscally responsible decision-making. Primarily, state government can no longer spend more money than it takes in as tax revenue. Failure to follow this common sense practice is the major cause of our fiscal crisis. Following major state income tax hikes in 2011 and in 2017, which took more than $30 billion out of the pockets of Illinois families and employers, it’s clear Illinois’ fiscal problems didn’t happen because government taxed too little. Illinois’ fiscal problems are because government spent too much.
In June of last year, I included a Revenue (taxes) versus Spending history chart in my weekly column. It showed years of overspending. Here’s an updated chart:
*FY 18 and FY 19 figures are estimates, based on available information.
As the new chart (above) shows, since Fiscal Year 2003 (FY03), Illinois government has spent more money (red line) than it received (green columns) in nine of the 17 budget years shown. Over this time, the state spent (Expenditures) a total of $17.2 billion more than it received (Revenues) in taxes.
Still Hopeful
In the last column of 2017, I wrote this about 2018: “I have hope for Illinois. Because it is an election year, 2018 could be a turning point if the people of Illinois make their collective voice heard by Springfield. Change is possible. There is a choice to be made between continuing down the same road of failure or embracing common sense practices and principles we know work. These practices and principles are the same ones we follow taking care of our families and small businesses.”
The challenges for state government are huge, but we were elected to take on these challenge. The road to opportunity and prosperity is clear. It includes government reforms to address our fiscal crisis and structural reforms to improve our business/jobs climate. It also requires ending the failed policies of the past and being honest with the citizens about how much money is available to spend. 
Notable Quotable
“Confidence is going after Moby Dick in a rowboat and taking tartar sauce with you.” – Zig Ziglar (1926 – 2012), American author, salesman, and motivational speaker.