SPRINGFIELD – It’s early January and the 2014 legislative session is yet to get under way, but it appears that budget and spending issues will dominate much of the discussion in the coming months.
As required by law, three-year budget projections were released by the Governor’s budget office Jan. 6 and they show continued spending growth and massive deficits ahead for Illinois. The projections for fiscal years 2015 through 2017 estimate a nearly $2 billion deficit by the end of next fiscal year and annual deficits of over $4 billion in each of the following two years.
$16 Billion Bill Backlog Predicted
Even more alarming is a predicted $16 billion bill backlog by Fiscal Year 2017, which would result from the cumulative effect of those deficits. The backlog at the end of the last fiscal year was roughly $6 billion.
Every January, the Governor’s budget office is required by law to submit three-year revenue and spending projections along with an Economic and Fiscal Policy Report. The figures provide an overview of what lawmakers can expect when the Governor formally submits his budget in February.
The budget office was required to assume that the state will lose the major portion of a 67 percent income tax hike enacted during a lame duck session in 2011, because it is set to expire automatically. The drop in that revenue coupled with the anticipated spending growth has the potential to create the largest deficits the state has ever seen.
Ever since the tax hike was imposed over Republican objections, Senate Republicans have warned that significant spending reductions were needed to pay off back bills and allow for the tax increase to expire as promised.
Illinois Last in Economic Growth
A recent report from the PEW Charitable Trusts paints a rosy picture for increased employment and economic growth nationally in 2014, but it tells a different story for Illinois. The state was placed dead last in a ranking of the 50 states based on projected job creation in the coming year.
The PEW report, citing data from Moody’s Analytics, says that, “after four years of fragile and uneven recovery, the U.S. job machine is likely to kick into high gear in 2014.” Nationally the economy will generate 2.6 million jobs in 2014, 2.2 million more than last year.
The report includes an interactive map showing 572,000 of those new jobs will be created in two states alone, with California adding 264,000 (1.80 percent growth) and Texas adding 307,590 jobs (2.75 percent growth). In sharp contrast is Illinois, which comes in last on the list with a prediction from Moody’s that the state will see less than 1 percent job growth in 2014.
Comptroller Shines Light on State Debt
In more state budget news, Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka’s end-of-the year publication Fiscal Focus has some surprising and interesting facts in its cover story about the state’s indebtedness.
Titled “$127 Billion, Is Illinois Drowning in Debt?” the story focuses on Illinois debt and the challenges the state faces from credit agencies. Just as a family might go into debt by using credit cards and taking out high-interest loans, Illinois has gone into debt by issuing bonds, the Comptroller points out.
Business Brisk for Concealed Carry Applications
The first day of concealed carry applications saw more than 4,500 persons submitting applications – and that was on a Sunday, over the Internet.
The state’s concealed carry online application site went live Jan. 5. According to the Illinois State Police, the online signup went smoothly, thanks in part to an early application period that began Dec. 18 and allowed the State Police to test the system and work out problems prior to the formal launch.
It could still be about three months before any permits are issued. The State Police have 90 days to approve or deny completed applications. Those without an electronic version of their fingerprints can expect an additional delay of up to 30 days. Additionally, law enforcement agencies, including local police and sheriffs, have 30 days after the application has been submitted to object to an individual licensee. While online applications are now being accepted, a paper version may not be available until July.
Gun Shop Ban Overturned
In related news, a federal judge in Chicago has said the city cannot arbitrarily ban gun shops. U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang has ruled that it is unconstitutional to prohibit licensed gun stores from operating in Chicago. While recognizing that the ban was intended to address the city’s serious gun violence issues, the judge said that did not justify violating fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution.
Although he threw out the ban, Judge Chang delayed implementation of his own order to allow Chicago city officials time to decide whether to appeal.