Senate Week in Review: May 2 – 6, 2016

May 16, 2016
17 days and counting. As of the date of this report, the Legislature has 17 days before the scheduled end of the spring session on May 31. One month later – June 30 – is the end of the current fiscal year. Incredibly, state government is still without a complete and constitutional budget. Meanwhile, what I saw happen in the Senate during the week leaves me wondering how serious my colleagues are about solving our financial problems in an open, honest way.

For months legislators heard about hardships experienced by social service providers, educators and state vendors who are not included in the court rulings, consent decrees and the parts of government that receive automatic funding. While 90% of state government is being funded through these ways, the final 10% or so is not. As a result, we are seeing a piece-meal approach to funding and the questionable methods in the Senate on Thursday, May 5.

Funding Fairytales
Magic tricks are being employed by both Democrats and Republicans. Call it “sleight of hand,” “smoke and mirrors” or “hocus-pocus,” the end result is unfortunate for taxpayers and accepted ideals of good government.

At issue are two legislative measures approved by the Senate that set aside reality for make-believe. Supporters argued Senate Bill 2048 will provide 60% funding for colleges and universities, and higher education MAP grants. The problem is that the money for this plan comes from another legislative measure, Senate Bill 580, which forgives ourselves of money we “borrowed” a year ago. So, under these plans we are going to pay for spending with money we aren’t going to pay back; money we took from dozens of state funds to balance the last state budget. Only government has the audacity to forgive itself of a debt and call it a good deal.

Adding insult to injury is the obvious assumption by supporters that no other parts of state government need to be funded; that no one who provides services to state government needs to be paid or that there is no backlog of overdue bills. You and I know this is not true. My colleagues know this is not true.

As much as I want to help our universities and colleges, what happened in the Senate is not an honest solution. The votes on May 5 basically stated Illinois government would provide funding for higher education with money that doesn’t exist.

I raised these issues during the Senate debate. In response to my line of questioning, the Democrat sponsor of Senate Bill 580 said the legislation was a Republican initiative and added that Republican colleagues would likely speak to it. In response I said the following: “If you think that I’m just going to ignore this because I’m a Republican, you’re wrong. This is ridiculous. Swapping money from one pocket to another, saying you have it when you don’t…” As it turned out some fellow GOP members did speak about Senate Bill 580, but they didn’t address my specific concerns.

Is a Tax Increase Far Behind?
My colleagues on both sides of the aisle think this is good because they get to spend this money to ease concerns back home about higher education funding. They get to go home and expect people to be happier with them, but we’re not being honest with people. Passing these bills is not being honest with people. There will be Senators who go home and tell you we provided money for your colleges and universities, but they did it by getting rid of a liability, a debt, that the state owes to itself. Be watchful. These decisions leave government short of money, adding to our deficit, which could lead to a tax increase down the road.

Unfortunately, the logic was lost on my colleagues, Republican and Democrat. Senate Bill 2048 passed on a vote of 55 to 2 and Senate Bill 580 was approved 54 to 3. I voted “no” on both measures, which now move to the House for consideration.

If the Legislature fails to get the state’s fiscal house in order, we will never be able to get our public debt under control. State government will remain a liability on our economy and a burden for our children and grandchildren. If we get our fiscal house in order, we can restore confidence in state government and renew Illinois’ promise as the economic engine of the Midwest and an economic leader among the states.

Notable Quotable
“If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.” – James Madison, Fourth President of the United States; Hailed as the “Father of the Constitution;” Federalist Papers (Federalist #51)

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