Friday, March 12, 2010

The Tragedy that is Illinois Politics (an ongoing saga)

"Now I've made some difficult and painful choices in this budget." IL Gov. Pat Quinn, 3/10/2010

I call bullshit. I'm not a chump, but Pat Quinn has joined the chorus of IL state legislators that acts as though I am. 

Last year, Quinn wanted a 50% increase in the state income tax rate, from 3% to 4.5%. In the middle of the deepest recession since the era of soup lines and the Dust Bowl, he wanted to dig his hands a fair bit deeper into our collective pockets. And honestly, I'm glad he had the stones to give it a try. But it didn't go anywhere, because in Springfield it's always easier to kick the can down the road than to face reality.

Illinois has been mortgaging its assets and living on borrowed cash for far too long. Blagojevich ran up the bills on his watch, and when he couldn't lease the lottery, tax businesses to death, or sell off the Thompson Center, he simply stopped paying into pension requirements or giving constitutionally-mandated cost-of-living increases to judges. Not exactly shining examples of long-term fiscal responsibility. And now with the economy in shambles and IL unemployment at 11.3%, we aren't generating the necessary income tax revenue to balance the budget, much less cover the deferred payments and debt that we've racked up over the years. 

So here we are in 2010, and another budget needs passing. In his address Wednesday, Gov. Quinn tells us that we need to borrow to save money (that actually makes a bit of sense), and that his best solution for a budget with no tax increases is to cut heavily. As such, he tells us the only way we can avoid the loss of 17,000 teachers is to enact a 33% increase in income tax to fund the education deficit. 

But this is simply a shell game, and a particularly dishonest one at that. The State Board of Education budget was shored up with approximately $1.8 Billion of federal funds from the Stimulus over FY2009-2010. These funds were designed to prevent a catastrophic drop-off in educational funding due to the recession, but were always known to be temporary. From :
Invest one-time ARRA funds thoughtfully to minimize the "funding cliff." ARRA represents a historic infusion of funds that is expected to be temporary. Depending on the program, these funds are available for only two to three years. These funds should be invested in ways that do not result in unsustainable continuing commitments after the funding expires.
And now we hear from Gov. Quinn:
"In the current fiscal year, the one we’re in, the federal stimulus program provided One Billion dollars in emergency funding for education in Illinois. Those federal dollars made it possible to protect our education system from severe cuts in the current budget. But those federal stimulus funds for education will end on July 1, 2010 --this year -- and right now, we do not have the revenues to replace those federal dollars."

Fact is, 89.4% of the General Fund budget cuts from FY2010 to FY2011 are coming from Education. Governor's Agencies, which make up over 63% of the General Fund Appropriations, only see a cut of 1.4% of their General Fund Allocation. And when looking at FY2010 Expenditures vs. FY 2011 Appropriations, Governor's Agencies is the only budget category that sees an increase, and that increase is 225% of the total cuts of all other budget categories combined.

We do need to make some difficult choices to bring our state's fiscal situation back into order. But this budget proposal is simply a scare tactic to develop constituent support for an otherwise disagreeable tax increase. It assumes the people of Illinois are a bunch of reactionary sheep, and we deserve better leadership than that.

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