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Illinois cries poor as it guarantees public workers $500 million more

By   /   February 20, 2014  /   No Comments

By Benjamin Yount | Illinois Watchdog

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — It’s been a parade of disappointment at the Illinois Capitol this month.

NO SMILES: Illinois' statehouse has been a den of bad news in 2014.

NO SMILES: Illinois’ statehouse has been a den of bad news in 2014.

Public schools, universities, hospitals, doctors, nursing homes, public health advocates and just about anybody else that receives state money have all trudged to the statehouse to be publicly reminded that Illinois will lose more than $1 billion if the 2011 “temporary” income tax increases are allowed to expire.

“Should we end up having to cut $1.9 billion out of our revenue stream this year…that would mean every single program mentioned as being of interest to (the Illinois Human Service committee) would have to be cut in its entirety,” state Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, cautioned lawmakers Thursday.

It’s not just that the state may take in less in tax dollars. Illinois is also spending more.

Illinois’ Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said the state has committed to spending more than $1 billion on people who depend on government or who work for government.

Cullerton, using figures from Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget office, said next year Medicaid spending will increase $669 million, Illinois’ pension payment will jump $214 million and personnel costs will rise $373 million.

That’s nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars more for people with public health and more than a half a billion more for people who collect a public paycheck.

“The Democrats’ spending priorities are messed up,” state Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, told Illinois Watchdog.

While public workers will get more, Illinois’ public schools will likely get less.

The state board of education says 63 percent of Illinois schools are in financial distress, and notes that 23 percent of schools have just 100 days of cash on hand.

School officials have asked for $1 billion, but lawmakers have told them the state doesn’t have it.

The money is, instead, being spent on pay raises and the ever increasing pension payments.

“That is backwards,” Senate GOP Leader Christine Radogno said. ““(But) What the Democrats would like the taxpayers in the state to believe is that ‘We can’t do anything about that. Our hands are tied.’ That is nonsense.”

Radogno said Democrats, from Quinn on down, are ignoring possible budget cuts and spending reforms to pave the way for another tax increase.

“Look at states around us that have made dramatic changes: Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan. They are flourishing,” Radogno said. “They are creating jobs. They are attracting people back into their states, whereas Illinois is losing people every single day of the year.”

Illinois lawmakers have begun the process of figuring out how to spend $34 billion dollars in the next state budget. That’s $2 billion less than is being spent this year, and doesn’t even begin to approach Illinois’ ever-growing stack of unpaid bills that total about $6 billion.

Illinois is required to have a balanced budget ready for the governor by June 1.

Reach Benjamin Yount at Ben@IllinoisWatchdog.org and find him on Twitter @BenYount.

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