Balanced budget deep in the red

Balanced budget deep in the red

Gov. Bruce Rauner has been cast by legislators in the villain's role on the budget issue.

A couple months ago — after the big budget battle between the state's Republican governor and the Democratic Legislature — House Speaker Michael Madigan claimed victory.

He forced a state income tax increase down Gov. Bruce Rauner's throat by leading an override of Rauner's veto of the budget and tax plan. Rauner foes said it was tough but necessary medicine to put Illinois on firmer financial ground and balance the state's 2017-18 budget.

But, like so much in Illinois politics, it wasn't quite true.

That's why Rauner this week announced that he's identified more than $200 million in cuts to balance the budget that legislators contended was balanced. There's only $1.5 billion more in needed cuts before available revenues will match projected spending.

Of course, the news story making the rounds these days is that a heartless governor is mindlessly cutting programs aimed at helping the poor. It's part of the Democratic Party mantra aimed at winning the governor's office back in 2018, and it's a powerful political club Democrats are wielding.

After all, the governor is making cuts, at least on paper. The fact that his cuts are motivated by the appropriation of phantom tax dollars is a mere detail that won't get as much play.

Although the dollar cuts are sizeable, the percentages they represent aren't. Rauner said that he's tried to impose 5 percent reductions in a variety of programs, which is similar to those that lawmakers last year suggested be applied to state agencies.

But behind the numbers, of course, are people who rely on the taxpayers for assistance.

Among those programs targeted for reductions are those aimed at addiction prevention, homelessness prevention, housing services, youth employment programs, refugee assistance and aid for people with disabilities.

The governor also took the ax to spending aimed at manufacturing, tourism and agriculture, business-support ventures that the Chicago Tribune noted the governor has "historically supported."

Why did the governor cut spending for programs he is known for supporting? The state doesn't have the money to fund them.

That, of course, didn't stop a spokeswoman for Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker from berating Rauner for his heartlessness. She said "Rauner slashing vital programs that helps Illinoisans built better lives comes as no surprise" and added that Rauner "has no moral compass." The Pritzker spokeswoman did not say what cuts he'd make if he was in Rauner's position.

Another Rauner critic, however, seemed to have a better handle on the problem. The Responsible Budget Coalition, a group representing 300 organizations statewide, took the usual swipe at the governor and called for his cuts to be overridden by the Legislature. But it also called for passage of a progressive income tax that would replace the state's flat income tax and generate many millions of dollars in new revenue.

In a tacit admission that all the current appropriate dollars aren't there to spend, the coalition said the governor and legislators should "choose these sort of revenue options to put our state on solid footing and lay the groundwork for prosperity."

Unbalanced state budgets are nothing new in Illinois politics. Even though the Illinois Constitution mandates that budgets be balanced, governors and legislators have for years ignored the legal requirement, in the process running up crippling debts that have made it impossible for state government to operate smoothly.

The state is to the point now where just doing more of the same is getting increasingly difficult. Further, Rauner isn't inclined to pretend that a budget that isn't balanced really is.

So look for a big fight when Rauner's cuts go back to the House and Senate, and he asks for assistance in cutting the remaining $1.5 billion in phony appropriations.

His position is that the state can't spend money it doesn't have. The General Assembly's response almost certainly will be, "Sure we can. We've been doing it for years."

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JohnRalphio wrote on October 20, 2017 at 11:10 am

Did the News-Gazette just forget that Rauner slashed the state university budget by 30%, not 5%?

Rauner is a buffoon who was okay with defunding 911 emergency systems, if it meant preventing the dispersal of public funds. His refusal to cooperate with passing a budget, even if it meant damaging the state's economic standing beyond repair, is unforgivable.

 

Save the Farms wrote on October 21, 2017 at 12:10 am

The State might have raised taxes 1.75%, but I note on today's property tax bill for Urbana, taxes have gone up 6.255%. 

State taxes are held hostage to the broken process that is led by Rep. Madigan - we will have to wait until he dies for this to be fixed.

The local process, though, is the City of Urbana and Champaign County. 

Within a dozen years, our property taxes will double what they are currently if the city and Country are allowed to continue tax increases as they are currently.

Even retirees, with their 3% per year increase, will only get a doubling of their salary at 20 years. 

If this keeps up, nobody will be able to live in the city of Urbana.

Maybe that's the plan?