Happy New Fiscal Year’s Eve! Get ready to pop the champagne at midnight to celebrate a new budget year for the state of Illinois.
Out with the old budget and in with the new spending plan.
Here at ground zero — the Stratton Office Building, located next to the stately Illinois Statehouse — we’re preparing a buffet featuring cold cuts, reheated rhetoric and platters of unpaid bills.
The Stratton bureaucrats who are the engine of state government probably won’t be around for the party. After all, it is a Sunday.
When they do arrive in their cubicles at 8 a.m. Monday morning, they’ll be greeted by a new reality: A fresh $35 billion to spend on the various programs that help poor people get enough to eat, protect children from abuse and ensure the overcrowded prison system doesn’t erupt into chaos.
The new state budget, managed by the governor out of the sixth floor of the Stratton building, will keep funding for school districts mostly flat, which is considered a victory for education, even though it is still at least 11 percentage points less than what it really should be.
The new fiscal year also will bring an expansion of the state’s Medicaid program, paving the way for more than 340,000 low-income, childless adults to get health insurance as part of the Obamacare initiative.
There also are cuts that will have to be dealt with. The Department of Children and Family Services, for example, will see a $36 million reduction, despite recent reports that employees are still woefully behind on investigating child deaths and abuse allegations.
Could relief be in the making? That likely will hinge on whether lawmakers can finally agree on how to rein in the ever-rising cost of state employee pension plans. Under the new budget plan, funding for pensions will grow to $5.9 billion, up from about $5.1 billion.
In the meantime, its time to say goodbye to the fiscal year that ends today.
And don’t forget to say hello to what could be another tough year in state government.
Gov. Pat Quinn once tried to claim that he actually lives in the Executive Mansion because he kept his underwear there.
He lives in his hometown of Chicago and generally only uses the Springfield residence as a party house during his intermittent visits to the Capital City.
At some point in the near future, however, you can bet he’ll be regaling visitors in the mansion as he soaks in the star power of the Stanley Cup, which is now in the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks after their victory over the Boston Bruins last week.
Soon after the Hawks won the Cup, Quinn told reporters that the iconic trophy will be on display at his home away from home in Springfield.
Although hockey tradition calls for only the winning hockey team to be able to touch the cup, we’re guessing some overly excited fans may want to brush up against it.
Perhaps Quinn can stand nearby with a pair of his briefs to wipe away any fingerprints.
If you are driving along Interstate 55 between Chicago and Springfield in the near future, keep an eye out for Senate President John Cullerton quietly zipping down the motorway in his all-electric $100,000-ish Tesla roadster.
The Chicago Democrat was in Normal last week to recognize Tesla’s investment in an electric car-charging network, which includes the first Midwest charging station.
The so-called Supercharger — located in uptown Normal — will allow Tesla drivers to travel for about three hours, take a 20- to 30-minute break to grab lunch, and get back on the road charged up. For free.
If you can’t quite afford a Tesla yet, you can always ask Cullerton if you can borrow his for a quick spin.
Just make sure to buckle your seatbelt. He’s a stickler about such things.
Today’s Lincoln moment
Monday not only marks the first day of the state’s new fiscal year, but it also is the 150th anniversary of the largest battle in North American history.
Beginning July 1, 1863, more than 50,000 soldiers were killed or wounded at Gettysburg, Pa. If you haven’t visited the Civil War battlefield, you should.
If you can’t make it that far, a handwritten copy of Abraham Lincoln’s 272-word Gettysburg Address will be on display at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in downtown Springfield until late November.