Generally ignored in the General Assembly’s adjournment at the end of May was the legislature’s action on a state budget.
The budget that will soon land on Gov. Pat Quinn’s desk calls for total general fund spending of about $35.4 billion. That’s $2 billion, or about 3 percent, more than the budget for the current fiscal year.
Public education and higher education will receive basically the same funding and there is not a plan to close prisons or others state facilities in the budget.
But there’s also a lot that’s troubling about the new budget. The most troubling is that it appears the state is continuing to live beyond its means.
The General Assembly added about $2 billion to the spending plan when April tax revenues increased by about $1 billion. Legislators seemed to believe that one month was a trend and increased revenue estimates for the fiscal year. Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka thinks April was an anomaly, but the General Assembly didn’t listen.
The new budget also doesn’t adequately address the state’s unpaid bills problem, which Topinka believes will be $7.5 billion by the end of August. That’s a slight improvement over the past, but it’s still a huge number.
Instead of using the unexpected tax revenue to pay off its debt, the General Assembly decided to buy some shiny new toys.
The Department of Transportation budget includes $71 million to finish purchasing the land for an airport in Peotone, according to Crain’s political columnist Greg Hinz. The necessity of a third Chicago-area airport is certainly questionable. If one is needed, locating it 50 miles from downtown Chicago doesn’t seem like the best plan. Finally, if you’re broke, building a new airport is a really, really bad idea.
There’s also a plan to allow $70 million in borrowing for a new stadium for DePaul University, which is a private institution. DePaul will contribute another $70 million to the hotel/stadium project. But doesn’t the Chicago area already have enough stadiums and arenas to house DePaul athletics?
This new budget is brought to you by the same political leaders that imposed a 67 percent increase on our income taxes in 2011. That “temporary” tax is supposed to sunset at the end of 2014. But how do you end that tax when any extra money gets spent immediately? How can taxes be returned to their usual level, if the state keeps spending more money? You can’t. That’s why it’s likely that all or part of the “temporary” tax increase will become permanent.
Voters can stop that from happening, but it will require close questions of our elected representatives during the 2014 elections.