Over the past few months, numerous plans have been proposed to solve the state's budget crisis, ranging from income tax increases, devastating cuts in state funding for human services, and substantial layoffs. On July 15, 2009 the Illinois General Assembly passed a pitiful excuse for a budget - a haphazard borrowing plan that indiscriminately cuts services and will exacerbate the already grave problems facing the state of Illinois.
My friend Rich Miller, author of the Capitol Fax Blog, said it best in a blog post shortly after budget negotiations ended last week:
"The budget - if you can call it that - which passed the General Assembly yesterday, has as much as a $5 billion hole in it, borrows over $7 billion from Wall Street and state vendors, disguises huge cuts to some private social service agencies with close to 90% funding for others and sets up the state for a surefire disaster next fiscal year.
Break out the party hats.
There is just no way on Earth that you can call this budget "balanced," or serious-minded. It is, at best, a punt until next year. Actually, it's more like a blocked punt with a big loss of yardage."
This is precisely why - for the first time in my 15 years as a lawmaker - I voted against a budget.
It is being (inaccurately) reported that human service providers and grant-funded services will receive 86 percent of their normal funding -- this is patently false. At best, this figure is misleading because it is only an average of the cuts that thousands of providers will face. In reality, while some providers may be fully funded or see their budgets cut by only 5 percent, others will be faced with cuts of 50 percent or more.
Another reason I voted NO was because in this case, the General Assembly completely abdicated its responsibility for passing a line-item budget, leaving these decisions to be made at the Governor's discretion. A lump-sum budget like this is unprecedented in the State of Illinois.
As Chair of the Human Services Appropriations Committee, I understand the need for belt-tightening and know that reasonable cuts were definitely in order, especially given the excess and waste that came to define the Blagojevich administration; however, this lopsided budget will be devastating for the clients of many agencies and community providers, and will result in layoffs and program cuts.
I could not in good conscience support such a jumbled, draconian solution that will further compromise the state's long-term fiscal solvency. It will put Illinois into even further debt and create a budget hole for next year that some predict could top $10 billion. Adding to this, the state has to pay back the borrowed pension funds...with interest.
Illinois has a structural budget deficit that has been growing over the last 10 years. Rather than continuing with financial gimmicks, such as fund sweeps, debt restructuring, sale of assets or more borrowing, we need a comprehensive solution, which includes: 1) spending reforms to restore long-term financial stability, 2) prudent reductions that protect core services, 3) improvements in our budget process for more transparency and accountability, and 4) additional revenues.
Citizens throughout the State are crying out for a responsible budget, and they want leaders who are willing to work together to make the difficult decisions needed to move Illinois beyond its current financial rut. I am eager to work with concerned parties and my colleagues to produce a comprehensive, more responsible solution in the coming months.