Illinois lawmakers bypass reluctant Quinn on massive budget shortfall
By Benjamin Yount | Illinois Watchdog
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn asked for an extra month to craft a budget plan, but instead he got a stiff reminder that state lawmakers aren’t waiting for him to fix Illinois’ massive budget shortfall.
NOT WAITING: Illinois lawmakers are not waiting for the governor to draft a budget.
Quinn has promised a “five-year blueprint,” but said he can’t unveil his plan at the Feb. 19 budget address. The Democratic governor wants to wait until late March.
That’s fine with the state’s most powerful Democratic lawmaker, House Speaker Mike Madigan, D-Chicago. He’ll let Quinn sit on the sidelines.
“The governor is asking for a delay, but here in the House we are not asking for a delay. We’re going to move forward,” Madigan said Tuesday.
With that, Madigan marginalized Quinn and made the governor’s pending budget plan much more irrelevant.
The speaker said the House has already begun the process of crafting the state budget.
“The House is really the driver of the state budget,” budget architect Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion said. “At the end of the day… the (House budget) numbers are accepted by the rest of the building.”
Bradley’s panel has already said the state will have about $34.4 billion to spend next year. The current state budget spends $36 billion. But Illinois has $42.6 billion in bills.
Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka’s office said there are $6.6 billion in unpaid bills either at the comptroller’s office or inside state agencies.
Lawmakers don’t know how they will stretch $34 billion to cover $42.6 billion in obligations.
State Rep. David Harris, R-Arlington Heights, the GOP’s point man on the budget, said Quinn plans to make up some of the difference by hoping for more money.
“His revenue estimate was $727 million higher (than ours),” Harris noted. “The governor’s office never saw a penny it doesn’t want to spend.”
It will likely take a tax increase to make up the rest.
Illinois’ 2011 temporary income tax increases are set to roll back in January 2015, halfway through the new state budget.
Lawmakers expect to lose $1.6 billion immediately and as much as $5 billion within two years.
Quinn, however, won’t say if he wants to extend the 2011 tax increases or if he will propose another plan to raise billions of dollars.
Carol Portman, president of the Taxpayers Federation of Illinois, said lawmakers are once again leaving the hesitant governor behind.
“The House is having a series of hearings on Illinois tax policy and tax incentives. They are talking a lot about Illinois’ business climate, but it is very clear they are also thinking about the upcoming rate roll-back, and what is the most fiscally responsible way to deal with it,” Portman said.
The House will hold more hearings on the budget until Quinn unveils his budget plan in late March. The Legislature must have a budget in place by the end of May.
Reach Benjamin Yount at Ben@IllinoisWatchdog.org and find him on Twitter @BenYount.
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