By Andrew Thomason | Illinois Statehouse News
SPRINGFIELD — Competing estimates for how much money Illinois must spend in the next fiscal year could be the difference between open doors or shuttered windows for smaller state-funded services.
Gov. Pat Quinn’s office puts state revenue for the upcoming fiscal year at $33.94 billion, $50 million less than the estimate by the Legislature’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, or COGFA, released Tuesday.
“Everybody kind of sees the same things happening in the economy right now. Both forecasting groups have taken a fairly conservative approach,” Jim Muschinske, COGFA’s revenue manager, said.
But just because numerically it’s a minuscule difference — $50 million is 0.0015 percent of the overall operating budget — doesn’t mean it isn’t a big deal to some.
The “difference between the two estimates sort of pales when you’re talking about $33 billion, but when you get in those appropriations committees, $50 million can really be a lot,” state Rep. Al Riley, D-Olympia Fields, a legislative member of COGFA, said.
That $50 million could mean the difference between a teenager abusing drugs and alcohol, or a victim of domestic abuse getting the protection she needs, according to advocates.
Funding for domestic violence shelters in Quinn’s budget would be cut by $2.3 million, from $18.8 million this year to $16.5 million.
Cutting aid to these shelters is like cutting funding to a local fire department, because people never know when they will need their help, said Vicky Smith, executive director for Illinois Commission Against Domestic Violence, a nonprofit that works against the abuse of women and children.
“They are emergency crisis-intervention services and need to be available when people need the assistance,” Smith said. Quinn’s cuts are “not good. This is a very, very high risk population that needs help immediately.”
In Illinois, there are 63 domestic violence shelters, and the proposed funding cut would shrink that number, Smith said.
Quinn’s budget also zeros out funding for youth substance and alcoholism abuse from the Illinois Department of Human Services’ Division of Family and Community budget.
Eliminating the $2.6 million in prevention funding would cut services to more than 34,000 children, but it would be more than just the children affected, said Eric Foster, chief operating officer for the Illinois Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Association, a nonprofit lobbying group that represents drug and alcohol abuse centers statewide.
“Substance abuse prevention services affect every single aspect of the state — health care, law enforcement corrections, the courts,” Foster said.
Foster and Smith said they will be lobbying the General Assembly to restore the funding.
"No cut is better than a cut, but it's still not keeping up with demand," Smith said.
State Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, said $50 million, one way or another, doesn't matter when ballooning costs of Medicaid and public pensions are left unchecked.
"It's giving a false hope for some to think there's an extra $50 million that could be used. Why the governor continues to go after private human service providers, I don’t understand,” said Syverson.
A quick review of recent history shows that COGFA's figure might be closer to the final figure than Quinn's projection. COGFA’s revenue estimate for fiscal 2011 was off by two one-hundredths of a percent of what actually flowed into state coffers.
“We did pretty well. Talking about $33.5 billion, our forecast was only off $7 million,” Muschinske said.
Quinn’s office was off by four-tenths of a percent, or about $125 million.
Kelly Kraft, Quinn’s budget spokeswoman, said the projections are not set in stone.
“They’re projected on what revenues will be based on tax forecasts, et cetera,” Kraft said.