Senate Week in Review

July 8, 2016
A six-month budget “doesn’t cut the mustard,” as the old saying goes. It doesn’t meet the standard of governing the people of Illinois deserve. The stop-gap spending plan approved June 30 contains just a few nuggets of goodness that some hope will divert attention away from the disaster that is Illinois politics.

Future Tax Increase?
I’m happy about the full year funding for K-12 education, but this plan could come back to haunt us. The stop gap provides most of state government with only enough money for the next six months. So, for a full fiscal year, state government is still underfunded. Illinois is still billions of dollars in debt. What I see in this stop gap budget is a tax increase waiting to happen.

When you don’t plan for a complete year and fail to look at all elements of a budget, there’s a possibility you’re going to financially come up short again. In this case, in another six months. That’s why I argue that a comprehensive approach on spending and reforms is the only way to accomplish the goal of a complete, balanced and constitutional budget.

True Budget Reform Rejected
As a group, Republicans advocated for a balanced budget and we continued to push for reforms needed to improve Illinois’ business/jobs climate. Personally, I offered a comprehensive budget plan that could put state government back on the road to fiscal recovery. It would address long-term debt problems, protect core services and implement structural reforms necessary to revitalize the state’s sluggish economy. Admittedly, it would require tough decisions about spending, only made necessary after 12 years of spending abuses.

Unfortunately, all we received in return was a $7 billion out-of-balance budget from the super majority and no reforms. Democrat leaders made it clear they were unwilling to discuss any reforms until after the election. What we are left with is this stop gap budget passed and signed into law at the June 30, 2016 deadline and hours before the start of the 2017 Fiscal Year, July 1.

A Political Decision
Putting off tough choices about priorities, spending, taxes and structural reforms until after the election is not being open, honest and truly accountable to the people. After an election is also a dangerous time for taxpayers. After the 2010 fall election, the push began for the largest-ever state income tax increase. Weeks later those efforts concluded with the approval of a 67% tax rate hike when the Legislature – populated with lame-duck lawmakers on their way out of office – reconvened in January of 2011.

Proven Failure: Higher Taxes
Hopefully we’ve learned the history lesson that a massive tax hike leads to an out-migration of citizens. That’s exactly what we witnessed in the years following the income tax hike. Illinois lost hundreds of thousands of citizens to other states. These were working Illinoisans, earning a living and paying taxes, who left for lesser burdens elsewhere. The public policy organization, Illinois Policy Institute (IPI), reported at the end of last year that Illinois experienced a population loss of 105,000 in 2015 alone. Another IPI report released in January of this year, indicated that the trend of out-migration from Illinois over the past 20 years led to a loss of billions of dollars in tax revenue to state and local government.

The Chicago Schools Bailout
Another aspect of the stop gap budget that is cause for concern is the tax dollar support being sent to the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). While this plan doesn’t contain the level of funding (nearly $1 billion) of other proposals, it still gives CPS hundreds of millions of dollars in new money. It also grants them the ability to raise property taxes for additional funding. Some might argue this is not a bailout, but it certainly looks like one. CPS will receive hundreds of millions of new tax dollars even though its history of poor education performance and financial mismanagement is well known.

Uncertainty Ahead
There is much to consider as state government moves into the new 2017 Fiscal Year. Does the stop gap budget deal represent a sincere pause in political hostilities that should give hope for cooperation in solving our fiscal problems or, is it merely a pause to allow partisanship to rearm after the fall election. Only time will tell. The past year does not engender confidence going forward.

Because of partisan politics, Illinois government ended its 2016 Fiscal Year on June 30 without ever having a complete and constitutional state budget in place. We went 12 months without a budget and ran government on court orders and consent decrees, and some limited areas covered by automatic funding. It’s the first time in state history Illinois went a full year without a budget. Hopefully, this abdication of responsibility will never happen again.

Hope Remains
Even though there is much about our state in need of repair and reform, I still believe opportunity exists to turn around our fortunes and restore confidence in state government, revitalize our economy, inspire hope and create opportunity for everyone.

The road to opportunity and prosperity is clear. It includes structural reforms, such as Workers’ Compensation and pension reform, to improve our business/jobs climate and reform government. It means ending the failed policies of the past. Growing our economy will provide prosperity for all and it will help get our state’s fiscal house in order. It means opportunity for employers and employees and it means more revenue for government to provide critical services for our most vulnerable citizens and pay our bills on time. A revitalized Illinois is important for our future. Getting our fiscal house in order will help get our public debt under control so government does not become a liability or burden for our children and grandchildren.

Notable Quotable
“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States; U.S. Congressman; Illinois State Representative

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