‘Toxic’ Illinois budget relies on federal bailout that might not come

(The Center Square) – Despite a pandemic causing billions of dollars of lost tax revenue because of government imposed shutdowns of sectors of the economy, and a reliance on a federal bailout, Illinois state lawmakers passed a budget onto the governor that seeks to spend $40 billion in state funds.

The budget lawmakers passed during a pandemic special session borrows billions to spend about the same as it did in the current year.

In addition to the $39.8 billion in state General Revenue Funds, there’s $57.7 billion from other state federal funds for a total of $97.5 billion.

Early Sunday morning, state Rep. Deanne Mazzochi, R-Elmhurst, said aside from the budget not being balanced because of borrowing, it gives the governor too much borrowing authority.

“Any time the governor decides that the hard-working people of Illinois haven’t worked hard enough and he wants more money to spend, sorry, that’s toxic,” Mazzochi said.

House Majority Leader Greg Harris, D-Chicago, said there was no other way.

“If we had gone to the scorched earth policy that some want to cut 35 percent of our state budget to shutdown hospitals, to defund our universities, to defund our school systems, that’s a world you guys can have,” Harris said. “That’s not a world that I want.”

The budget passed along party lines with some Democrats voting against it. A separate measure that passed allows the state to borrow $5 billion from the federal reserve. There’s other borrowing the state approved.

Critics say billions in the budget are funded through hopes for federal aid that hasn’t been released yet.

Pritzker said he’s looking for aid from the federal government to pay off short term borrowing.

“My hope, again, is that the federal government will help all of the states and municipalities, so we’ll be able to pay that back,” he said.

He also acknowledged the budget isn’t balanced because the federal government hasn’t released any aid beyond what was only meant for COVID-related expenses, not regular costs for running state and local governments.

“Well, there’s no doubt that we’re going to have to revisit our budget if the federal government doesn’t come through,” Pritzker said. “I think all 50 states are going to have to be revisiting their budgets if the federal government doesn’t come through.”

It’s unclear if or when the federal government will pass another COVID-relief measure. The Democratic-controlled House passed another bill but the Republican-controlled Senate opposes it.

State lawmakers now are off until after the November election.

Other elements of the spending plan include over $10 billion for the state’s underfunded pensions when including insurance programs for teachers and colleges. The state’s pension system has more than $136 billion in unfunded liabilities.

Among some of the increases in spending, there’s 12 percent more for Healthcare and Family Services, or a total of $29 billion. There’s an increase of $85 million for the Illinois Department of Transportation for a total of $3.8 billion, $6.4 million more for Illinois State Police for a total of $693.4 million, nearly 11 percent more for the State Fire Marshal (total $45 million) and $34 million for the Gaming Board.

The state’s universities overall will get $1.1 billion.

There are decreases in spending for the Arts Council, the Illinois Deaf and Hard of Hearing Commission, Illinois Workers Compensation Commission, a decrease for mental health in the Department of Human Services, a decrease for the Prisoner Review Board, the State Police Merit Board and the Illinois Workers Compensation Commission.

Elements of spending highlighted by the governor Sunday is $800 million in stability payments for health systems, hundreds of millions of dollars in contact tracing for COVID-19, and $636 million in grants for communities throughout the state for economic recovery.

A separate bill to implement the budget increases the eligibility threshold for energy assistance and gives undocumented workers over the age of 65 access to Medicaid. It’s unclear how much those programs will cost.

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