ILLINOIS (IRN) — With a new fiscal budget set to be in place in a little more than three months, the long-running debate at the statehouse continues: does Illinois have a spending or a revenue problem?
Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said there’s been a “hollowing out” of state government, talking about the historic budget impasse from 2015 to 2017. His proposed budget for the coming year doesn’t cut anything. Instead it relies on more than $1 billion of increased revenue and more spending.
State Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, said the state needs more money.
“Human services funding has gone sharply down, higher education is deeply underfunded, and all this does is shift the burdens around to who can least afford them,” Guzzardi said.
Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza’s office on Monday launched its Public Accountability Report, which houses 15 years worth of spending data on various categories and state agencies.
For the category “Human Services,” the state spent $21 billion in Fiscal Year 2007. For all spending, including federal dollars, the state spent $52.4 billion in ‘07. In Fiscal Year 2017, the state spent $26 billion in “Human Services.” For all spending, including federal funds, the state spent $73.9 billion.
For the category “Higher Education,” the state spent $2.4 billion in 2007. It spent about $100 million less ten years later, or a total of $2.3 billion.
State Rep. Grant Wehrli, R-Naperville, said the state’s financial woes, which includes having among the worst credit ratings, are because Illinois’ previous years of mismanaging tax dollars are catching up.
“When you look at what we pay in pensions compared to other states, we’re not even close to being in the realm of sustainability and we’re an outlier on the high side of what we spend in pension systems,” Wehrli said.
Nearly one in every four dollars the state brings in goes to pay for public sector pensions.
Data through the comptroller’s Public Accountability Report shows in Fiscal 2007, the state contributed $1.2 billion to six pension systems, the five state systems and the Chicago Teachers’ Pension and Retirement System. In Fiscal 2017, the state spent $7.2 billion on those same funds. The largest increase was the Teacher’s Retirement System, to which in Fiscal 2007 the state contributed $813.5 million. In Fiscal 2017, the state contributed $4 billion.
Despite that increased spending, Illinois unfunded pension liability in 2007 was estimated at $45.8 billion. That has increased to $134 billion in the most recent report from the Illinois Auditor General.
Taxpayer and manufacturer Don Welge of Gilster-Mary Lee said with Illinois’ large debts, he’s looking at investing in operations he has in other states so he as a taxpayer is less on the hook in the future for the state’s poor financial decisions. He said the state should apply simple business practices to managing money.
“[The state] has a spending problem and much more than it’s revenue problem,” Welge said. “No matter what you’re making, if you constantly spend more than you make you’re going to go broke and Illinois is a giant example of that. The city of Detroit went bankrupt as a result of those kinds of policies and Illinois is going faster into debt than any other state.”
A Pritzker budget official defended the proposed no-cuts budget as a “maintenance budget” last week to a group in Springfield. The only reductions in spending proposed is how much the state will give to pensions as the administration looks to extend the years for the pension payment ramp to get to a certain level of funding.