Tuesday, August 11, 2015

What happens if state government officials NEVER reach budget deal?

We’re nearly a month-and-a-half into Illinois government’s current fiscal year, and it has been about three months since the period in time when state officials should have been seriously negotiating about a budget for fiscal ’16.

As those of us who pay attention all know, none of that has happened. There isn’t any serious talk about trying to outline how the roughly $32 billion the state expects to have will be spent.

THE MONEY IS there. Tax revenues are being collected, as usual. There just isn’t a spending plan that dictates how all the money is to be allocated to the many services that government has an obligation to provide.

All we have got in the way of fiscal activity are  various moves by the governor and the Legislature that are more about partisan politics – moves that can be described in ways that favor oneself and try to place total blame for what is happening on the other side.

That seems to be the strategy – no one seems concerned about the lack of a budget. Even though the state Constitution specifically says that money can’t be spent without a budgetary plan put in place.

Except that there are certain functions that MUST be performed, even if government can’t get its act together to allocate their finances. Those tend to be the functions that have court orders that say a lack of funds is not sufficient reason to avoid doing something.

THEN, THERE’S THE fact that Gov. Bruce Rauner did sign off on the part of the state budget that covers public education programs. School districts across the state are supposed to begin this week receiving their funding for the upcoming academic year.

So that’s one part of government responsibility that will be performed.

In fact, the Chicago Tribune reported Monday that about 80 percent of the state’s money is being spent – even though much attention will be paid to the remaining 20 percent.

The problem we’re in is that we have state officials determined to view this as a political spat. They want to win the partisan war – and are all convinced that the public will view their own actions as heroic and place blame on the opposition.

ARE WE DESTINED to go through all of Fiscal ’16 without a budget ever formally being approved. Whether we realize it or not, that is a problem!

The issue is that without a budget, state agencies and programs that are able to spend money (including those employees who continue to get paid because the courts in the Illinois-based suburbs of St. Louis said they must) continue to do so at the rate of funds they had last year.

But this is the year the state seriously needs to make a few billion dollars in spending cuts, or approve some sort of tax increase (although I’m sure they have a toned-down term to describe their actions) to make up the difference.

The longer our government officials put off trying to seriously negotiate, the more likely it becomes that we wind up tapping into next year’s money in order to pay off this year’s debt. With the cycle getting worse and worse as time passes by.

THIS IS EXACTLY the kind of inaction that results in the ridiculously-low approval ratings our government officials get. There is no one who will “win” this partisan spat.

Some people want to believe that Gov. Bruce Rauner made it clear when he ran for office that he wanted to take on organized labor; and that his electoral victory last year somehow gives him the right to succeed. Considering Rauner has hinted he could approve some things to create more funds IF his anti-union measures are advanced makes me think he knows more money is a necessary component.

At what point does his desire to challenge the “veto-proof” opposition-party General Assembly on this issue merely constitute a contrarian nature and an ego run amok? For now, this is a fight he needs to put aside for the good of the state.

Perhaps if he gets a more sympathetic General Assembly in the future (and with all the money he’s coming up with for GOP legislative candidates, that’s obviously his goal), then he’ll be in a position to force his organized labor opposition agenda on the people of Illinois without gumming up the works of government operations.


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