Illinois revenue is way up, but resist the temptation to spend it
It might be dangerous to mention this while the Legislature is still in session, when lawmakers might be tempted to fund all of Gov. Rod Blagojevich's new (and unaffordable) initiatives.
But the Illinois economy is looking very good. Unemployment is down. Wages and salaries are projected to grow moderately. Housing starts are still up, although they seem to be slowing. New car and truck registrations continue to grow. Businesses are expanding and exports are headed upward, according to recent projections.
Perhaps most important to state government, tax revenue is way up. The state Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability has again increased its estimate of overall state revenue for the current fiscal year, ending June 30. It revised its revenue estimate up $275 million to $27.12 billion – an increase of $901 million from last year. Excluding federal funds and other unusual sources, the state's fundamental revenue sources – the big three of sales taxes, individual income taxes and corporate income taxes – are up more than $800 million. The commission also has revised upward its estimate of revenue for the fiscal year beginning July 1 to $27.85 billion.
What to do with all of that money? Save it. Pour it into the state's underfunded pension systems. Save it. Pour some into maintenance at the University of Illinois and other institutions. Save it. Give the Illinois State Police some new squad cars. Save it. Hire more guards for the understaffed prison system. Save it. Increase funding for the state's public schools. Then save some more.
Most than anything, lawmakers should resist the temptation to undertake expensive new programs that may yield votes in November but only add to the state's long-term expenses.