In his annual budget message March 6, Gov. Pat Quinn proposed a budget that once again relies on temporary revenues to fund permanent government services.
Quinn’s budget plan builds in expenditures based on the income tax increase that is set to expire in 2015. The practice of building long-term spending increases into budgets using short-term revenues has been characteristic of both Quinn and his former running mate, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Although the temporary tax hike pushed through by Quinn and Democrat legislative leaders in 2011 was sold to the public as a means of paying off the state’s backlog of bills, it has instead been used to fund ongoing state expenses, even as the bill backlog continues to climb. Illinois owes $1.6 billion more in unpaid bills today than when the tax hike was adopted.
The Governor’s budget takes deep swipes at education funding in Illinois, both at the local school level and at public universities and community colleges. By making significant reductions in a politically- and publicly-sensitive policy area like education, the cuts are an obvious attempt to build political pressure for pension reform.
Yet, the biggest challenge to achieving pension reform in Illinois is not a lack of pressure, but instead a lack of leadership from the Governor. While Quinn has offered vocal support for the concept of pension reform, he has neither produced his own plan nor rounded up votes for other plans and, quite frankly, I’m getting fed up. Not only do the Democrats have control of the Governorship, they have supermajorities in both the House and the Senate. The Governor must work with his leaders – with Mike Madigan and John Cullerton – to fix this problem. And if they can’t come to an agreement, then it is time to let the rest of us come to the table with our ideas.
As the non-partisan “Reboot Illinois” noted the day after the speech, “...as governor, it’s Quinn’s job to make it happen. So far, Quinn has a slim record of success in walking delicate and difficult legislation through the legislature’s political minefield.”
I am willing to work in a bipartisan manner to address Illinois’ budget crisis, but Gov. Quinn and Democrat legislative leaders first need to start working together.
Following private industry’s lead, government pensions must move to a defined contribution plan from the current defined benefit plan system, which has gotten us into so much trouble. The Illinois Policy Institute has just proposed such a plan. Their plan is the best solution to our unfunded liability that I have seen.
The Governor’s Fiscal Year 2014 (FY14) proposal for Illinois’ operating budget totals $62.4 billion. Of that amount, $31.2 billion originates from General Funds. Included in this number is a $929 million increase for the state’s pension payment.
When spending items such as debt service payments and other statutory transfers are accounted for, total FY14 General Funds spending in this plan reaches $35.6 billion. This level of General Funds spending represents an increase of $1.2 billion over FY13.
To encourage public participation in the budget process, Senate Republicans have made their own detailed internal analysis available to the public on their Web site www.senategop.state.il.us.
In the speech, Quinn also opened the door to a gambling expansion. Within hours, supporters pushed a major gambling bill through the Senate’s Executive Committee, clearing the way for a vote before the full Senate. Senate Bill 1739 would authorize a casino in Chicago, open the state up to Internet gambling, allow slot machines at horse racing tracks and allow four new casinos or riverboats in cities outside Chicago.
The proposed gambling expansion includes the following major provisions:
- Chicago Casino: Creates a “Chicago Casino Development Authority,” which would be granted a license for a 4,000-position Chicago casino. The Authority would be run by a five-member board appointed by the mayor of Chicago and vetted by the Illinois Gaming Board. The Authority would also be able to offer slot machines at O’Hare and Midway airports after passing through TSA.
- Internet Gambling: Authorizes Internet-based gambling, including Internet poker. Internet gambling would be limited to persons older than 21 and wagers could be accepted only within Illinois.
- Slot Machines at Horse Tracks: Allows for electronic gambling, including slot machines, at the state’s six racetracks – Arlington Park, Hawthorne, Maywood, Balmoral, Fairmont and Quad City Downs.
- New Riverboats/Casinos: Authorizes four new riverboats or casinos in Rockford, Danville, Lake County and Southern Cook County. Each would be allowed up to 1,200 gambling positions.
- Campaign Contribution Ban: Prohibits gambling licensees (including terminal operators from video gambling) and their affiliated entities (includes horse racing associations) from making political contributions to officeholders and candidates for the following offices: State Constitutional Officers, General Assembly, county or municipal officeholders and candidates where a gambling facility is located or proposed, and county or municipal officeholders and candidates where the county or municipality receives gambling revenue.