SOURCE: Illinois Education Association

May 18, 2010 12:24 ET

Responsible Budget Coalition: Don't Dig a Deeper Hole

Coalition Demands Responsible Revenue Plan From Illinois Leaders

SPRINGFIELD, IL--(Marketwire - May 18, 2010) -   Illinois legislators should return to Springfield, return to work -- and not return home again until they've approved a responsible state budget that protects essential public services from further devastating cuts. So say representatives of the Responsible Budget Coalition, who renewed their call for common-sense revenue reforms at news conferences in eight Illinois communities today.

Coalition members assert the budget plans currently under consideration by legislators do not represent a real solution to Illinois' $13 billion budget crisis. The proposals lack necessary revenues and would threaten the state's economic recovery, worsening everyday life for families and communities, coalition members say.

"Kids and families, seniors and the disabled -- Illinoisans of all kinds need help surviving this recession and getting back on their feet," said coalition Chairman John Bouman. "But the plans we're hearing about would result in more harmful cuts, avoid paying the bills and fail to solve the state's most fundamental fiscal problems."

"Without the revenues to back them, those budget ideas only dig a deeper hole for our state," added Bouman, who is also president of the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law. "We need the General Assembly to adopt a responsible, comprehensive solution now. Continued delays only make our problems worse and worse."

Legislators had set an arbitrary deadline of May 7 to finish their spring session and head home three weeks earlier than usual. Although they failed to agree on a new state budget by that date, lawmakers left the capitol anyway with plans to return sometime before the end of the month. Starting in June, a supermajority vote would be necessary to pass a budget for the fiscal year that begins in July.

Coalition members note that, when legislators left Springfield, they were considering slashing more resources from schools, health and human services, public-safety efforts and other critical priorities that already have suffered brutal cuts this year. These cuts would cost the state tens of thousands of local as well as state jobs -- from teachers, police and firefighters to private-sector providers of mental health, care for seniors and the disabled, and other services that contract with the state.

And while some legislators claim their plans would actually avoid devastating cuts, coalition members point to proposals that would further decrease services for families while increasing the state's financial instability.

In fact, budget plans outlined by legislators so far would:

  • Fail to pay a huge backlog of bills owed to schools and providers of vital services -- a backlog that's expected to jump from about $4 billion today to $6 billion by the end of June. Greatly delayed payments already are forcing many programs to cut back and close their doors; an additional $2 billion in unpaid bills would exacerbate such problems further.

  • Rely too heavily on temporary revenue sources, such as borrowing to make pension contributions (or skipping them altogether), as well as selling state assets such as tobacco-settlement proceeds. Borrowing might be a necessary strategy to avoid harmful cuts in the short term. But without the addition of new, adequate revenues to back-up borrowing as part of a comprehensive solution, the state racks-up a dangerous amount of long-term debt -- threatening vital programs with further cuts down the road.

  • Dig the state's budget hole far deeper in the long run. Again -- without significant new revenues -- overreliance upon borrowing, delaying bills and other short-term tactics only increases our long-term costs.

Additionally, the budget plans in formation include approval of sweeping, "Emergency Budget Act" authority that would extend the state's lagging bill-payment cycle further still. Legislators are planning -- for the second year in a row -- to kick to the Governor much of their traditional responsibility for determining line-item appropriation amounts, and the proposed Act would leave the Governor many powers to transfer funds to handle cash-flow needs.

Coalition members worry that day-to-day, cash-flow maneuvers already have become a primary method for the state to pretend to own-up to appropriations pledges made to schools and service providers -- without the comprehensive solution that's necessary.

"So far, these budget plans fail every test of responsibility to the people of Illinois," said Kathy Ryg, president of Voices for Illinois Children, another coalition partner. "They do not provide revenues adequate for paying our bills, sustaining vital state services or setting Illinois back on a path toward fiscal stability."

A responsible, balanced solution is necessary, coalition members say -- one reflecting the framework of House Bill 174, which passed the Senate and a House committee last spring but still awaits a vote by the full House. That legislation would increase income taxes moderately and modernize the state's sales-tax base; it would better-reflect families' ability to pay by strengthening the personal exemption, the Earned Income Tax Credit and the property tax credit.

"Some legislators worry about the political consequences of voting for a responsible budget that includes adequate new revenues. We say they ought to be more concerned about facing Illinois families and communities devastated by the continuing loss of vital public supports," said the Rev. Dr. Denver Bitner, president/CEO of Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, one of the state's largest human-service providers.

"Millions of older Illinoisans and retirees rely on the support of state services to stay healthy and in their own homes," said AARP Illinois Senior State Director, Bob Gallo. "But the current budget plans pull the rug from under older residents, and may force many of them into costly nursing homes, tripling the cost to taxpayers. Our legislators need to go back to Springfield, pass a responsible budget and make sure our seniors are not left behind."

The AARP has made available a toll-free telephone number that allows people to call their state legislators directly, urging their approval of a responsible budget with adequate revenues. That number is 800-719-3020.

Tuesday's news conferences were held in Chicago, Rockford, Moline, Peoria, Quincy, Decatur, East St. Louis and Vienna.

The Responsible Budget Coalition includes more than 200 organizations representing and serving millions of Illinois residents. We are educators and students, advocates, service providers, public servants, civic leaders and people of faith. We are committed to fixing the state's broken budget, stabilizing Illinois' economy by saving jobs, and providing adequate funding for essential public services such as education, health care, public safety and care for the most vulnerable. We believe a comprehensive tax-reform package like House Bill 174 is the best and fairest way to accomplish this.

For more information, visit the coalition at www.abetterillinois.com. For a full list of coalition members, check http://www.abetterillinois.com/about/coalition.pdf.

Contact Information

  • Contacts:

    John Bouman
    312-961-3862
    (Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law; RBC chair)

    Patrick Keenan-Devlin
    312-401-5829
    (Responsible Budget Coalition campaign director)

    Sean Noble
    312-502-5566
    (Voices for Illinois Children)

    Charlie McBarron
    217-544-0706
    (Illinois Education Association)

    Gerardo Cardenas
    312-351-0228
    or
    Heather Heppner
    312-206-4662
    (AARP Illinois)

    Sara McElmurry
    312-351-3890
    (Latino Policy Forum)

    Sessy Nyman
    773-315-1309
    (Illinois Action for Children)

    Brynn Seibert
    312-596-9385
    (SEIU Healthcare Illinois)

    Dan Schwick
    773-329-1232
    or
    Jo Ann Dollard
    847-390-1446
    (Lutheran Social Services of Illinois)