The Civic Federation, a nonpartisan, Chicago-based research group that has been supportive of past Blagojevich administration initiatives, last week blasted the governor's proposed fiscal year 2007 budget.
In particular, it was critical of the governor's pension funding "holiday," now in its second year, and of his decision to add $261.7 million in new spending initiatives to the state budget.
The group said that the governor's and the General Assembly's decision to shortchange the pension funds by $1.1 billion this year drops the state's pension funding ratio to 57.7 percent, down from 60.9 percent three years ago. And it increases the state's unfunded pension liability to $45.8 billion.
And although it was not critical of any particular programs, the Civic Federation said it opposed the entire budget, and specifically cited the 14 new spending initiatives proposed by the governor. Those include a $90 million tuition tax credit, $45 million for the All Kids health insurance program and $45 million for the first phase of a universal preschool program.
"Not only is Illinois not taking care of its current and past spending obligations," said Lawrence Msall, the president of the civic federation, "it is creating new and potentially larger future obligations. We at the Federation cannot stress enough how important it is for the future of the state of Illinois that current responsibilities be taken care of before shouldering new spending commitments."
We've argued essentially the same points for more than a year, but the governor and Legislature have turned a deaf ear. Perhaps the Civic Federation will find greater success. The state's citizens should hope so.
But only three weeks remain in this year's legislative session, and lawmakers are on track to pass a budget based on three dangerous principles:
– Taking money that was supposed to go to pension funds and using it to fund general state operations.
– Spending more money than the state is taking in.
– Committing the state to more and more expensive programs.
That's a blueprint for making the state's dire financial condition even worse.
Another intriguing aspect of the Civic Federation's list of recommendations is one that calls upon the governor to convene a "Blue Ribbon Commission on State Spending" to conduct a comprehensive review of spending and to prioritize programs. Politicians often use such "blue ribbon commissions" to do things they want to do but can't appear to want to do without getting hurt politically. For example, a blue ribbon commission, appointed in 1968 by former Gov. Sam Shapiro, helped give Richard Ogilvie and the Legislature some of the cover they needed in 1969 to approve a state income tax.
It will be interesting to see if Blagojevich – who has overspent every year in office – borrows the Shapiro/Ogilvie model to "reluctantly" embrace some sort of a tax increase next year.