Report: State budget woes worse than previously thought
By PETER HANCOCK
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – The state of Illinois faces a potential budget deficit of $3.2 billion in the upcoming fiscal year that begins July 1, far more than former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration projected late last year.
That’s the conclusion of a report issued Friday by newly-elected Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration, who used the findings to continue chastising the man Pritzker defeated in the 2018 election.
The 12-page document, entitled “Digging Out: The Rauner Wreckage Report,” was issued by Deputy Gov. Dan Hynes, a former state comptroller who oversees budget and economic issues for the administration. It lays the blame for most of the state’s fiscal mess on the two-year budget impasse from 2015 to 2017 that resulted in a series of credit downgrades for the state.
“The choice by the Rauner administration to wage ideological warfare took a severe toll on our state: plunging us deeper into debt and causing severe damage to our social safety net and higher education,” the report stated. “The Rauner years will have ripple effects for a generation to come on those who suffered direct harm, including taxpayers. Illinois already had fiscal challenges to overcome, but the previous administration drove the state into a ditch.”
In addition to the budget deficit, the report identifies $15 billion in costs associated with the continuing backlog of unpaid bills. Those include $7.9 billion in actual bills, plus $5.5 billion in debt the state took on to pay down what had been an even larger backlog; $650 million for money borrowed from other state funds; and $500 million in estimated back pay for state employees.
The $500 million in back pay owed to state workers is the result of a court ruling that overturned Rauner’s refusal to fund annual “step” increases for union employees in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME. The Pritzker administration has since restored those pay raises, but the report indicates the final cost could go even higher as a result of compounded interest.
Much of the report is based on information previously released by Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza, but the “Rauner Wreckage” report goes further, criticizing the previous administration for other kinds of alleged mismanagement, such as the delayed rollout of new information technology systems which, according to the report, affects a wide array of government functions, from delivering health care services and processing federal payments to processing revenues and paying rents.
Noticeably absent from the report is any detail about how the Pritzker administration plans to deal with the shortfall. That, presumably, will come when the governor delivers his budget address to the Legislature on Feb. 20.
Separately, though, Pritzker’s office also released a number of reports Friday from various transition committees, including one that focused on budget issues.
But that report also did not offer a detailed plan for addressing the massive budget deficit. Instead, it offered some general suggestions about seeking new sources of revenue from sources like sports betting and taxing legalized marijuana, along with potential savings the state could realize through management efficiencies.
Republican leaders in the Legislature did not immediately comment on the report. A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader William Brady (R-Bloomington) said he would wait until Pritzker’s budget address before commenting.