Credibility is another casualty of Illinois’ staggering financial problems.
A couple weeks ago, Gov. J.B. Pritzker presented his proposed $41.6 billion budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year that he characterized as spare but balanced.
The budget may be spared by Pritzker’s standards, but it’s certainly not balanced on anything other than paper. In keeping with Illinois’ new tradition under both Republican and Democratic governors, the budget is a morass of phony projections and misrepresented numbers put together in the service of an important myth — meeting the constitutional mandate of a balanced budget.
Actually, the notion that the budget must be balanced is a myth, too. The Illinois Constitution does not really require a balanced budget, it just appears to do so.
Proposed spending must be balanced with budget estimates. That means mucho flexibility for budgeteers intent on fudging the financial picture.
That’s not the end of the dishonesty either.
To raise nearly $1 billion in new revenue, depending on one’s perspective, Pritzker either proposed a series of tax increases or eliminated a series of corporate loopholes.
Terminology is as important to the slippery budget process as revenue estimates.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker has a tough job on his hands. He doesn’t have near as much money as he wants or needs. He’s cut some expenses but has met union opposition to employee furlough days.
That’s why, even though state law requires a proposed balanced budget based on existing revenue estimates, he feels compelled to fudge. For example, Pritzker’s budget includes nearly $1 billion in anticipated revenues from tax increase/corporate loophole eliminations yet to be approved.
He’s also redirecting sales and cigarette tax revenues intended to go to pay for road improvements and capital projects and sweeping $565 million in special state accounts to the general fund. Then there’s the business of delaying payments into the next budget year (2022-23) to make this year’s budget look balanced.
The result is a budget shell game. How it plays out in the real world remains to be seen.
As for the alleged corporate loopholes, one Pritzker target is a scholarship tax that encourages individuals to make contributions that pay for academic scholarships for children from poor families.
The elimination of another corporate loophole would require farmers to pay roughly 20 cents extra per gallon of diesel fuel.
Poor kids and farmers aren’t the stereotypical corporate buccaneers. But they’re being cast in that role, and that’s just part of the problem.
The Invest in Kids scholarship program and business rule changes Pritzker is pursuing were the result of bipartisan negotiations with this governor and his predecessor, Bruce Rauner.
For the governor to renege on agreements he made would undermine his standing as a trustworthy negotiating partner. Republican Leader Jim Durkin said he fears Pritzker will “abandon the handshake agreement we had” and that it “raise(s) questions about his credibility with me.”
Well, what else is new. Nothing apparently is as it’s supposed to be. People usually have to wait for election season to endure the whoppers politicians throw around. Now the dishonesty runs year-round.