By Benjamin Yount | Illinois Watchdog
SPRINGFIELD – The math doesn’t add up for Illinois’ next budget.
The state needs to find more than $8 billion for pensions, another $6 billion for elementary and high schools, and several billion dollars more for health care, social services, roads and all the other things people expect the state to provide. But Illinois doesn’t have all those billions of dollars.
The state House is looking at a budget for the next year that would top out just over $35 billion, an increase from the current budget of about $34 billion.
But state Rep. David Harris, R-Arlington Heights, said no one should think for a second that Illinois has an extra billion dollars to spend.
“Our pension payment alone, if we don’t do anything, goes up by a billion dollars,” Harris said. “That doesn’t even count the increased pressures from Medicaid, from the group health insurance. … The spending pressures are much greater than a billion dollars.”
In other words if the $1 billion in tax growth is eaten up by the pension payment, the rest of the state budget is going to be cut to make up for rising health care costs.
But Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration is not ready to concede that Illinois’ money is already spoken for.
Marc Staley, vice-chair with the governor’s Office of Management and Budget, said the administration is hoping for at least another $300 million from the federal government.
Quinn’s office wants to claim a higher federal match for the health coverage the state provides to children under All Kids, a Medicaid program, going back a year.
But state Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, who will craft the House budget said when it comes to money from Washington, hoping is not the same as getting.
Steve Stanek, a research fellow at the free-market Heartland Institute, said Illinois would be crazy to base its budget on the hope that the federal government will come to the rescue.
“The state, years ago, should have reduced its spending levels. Instead Illinois has done all it can to keep spending,” Stanek said via phone from Chicago. “What business, what family goes year after year spending more than they have? The only ones I know who do that end up living in refrigerator boxes on a street corner.”
Even if the federal government were to approve more money for Illinois’ Medicaid program, Dan Long, with the legislature’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, said the state may not have the cash on hand to qualify for the federal matching funds.
“That (money) may not be available, unless the Comptroller stops paying a lot of other bills and puts it all toward Medicaid,” Long said.
Harris, the Republican, said Quinn and everyone else in the state needs to realize that Illinois will have to stretch the money it has.
Harris and Bradley say they hope to have a final spending outline soon. Quinn has been given until March 6 to deliver his budget. Lawmakers than have until May 31 to figure out what the state will spend.
Contact Benjamin Yount at Ben@IllinoisWatchdog.org.