As anticipated, the FY 2007 Illinois budget was pushed through the General Assembly last week and the spring session of the General Assembly came to an end. The $56.3 billion dollar spending plan is once again financed by a combination of dedicated-fund raids and pension raids as well as some fairly healthy increases in other state revenue sources like the income and sales tax. The increases in income and sales tax are not the result of increases in the rates for either of these taxes. Those increases are the result of an improving federal economy that is beginning to take effect in Illinois. However, this recovery is much better in states surrounding Illinois.
Back to the budget: The FY '07 plan calls for a total spending increase of $1.4 billion. This makes the four-year total spending increase for the Blagojevich administration a little over $4 billion. The plan calls for another $1.1 billion to be siphoned from the five state pension funds including the Downstate Teacher's Retirement System. The Chicago Teachers Retirement System did not get shorted one dime. While the downstate system is funded at about 58 percent, the Chicago system is funded at about 79 percent. Illinois has the worst-funded public pension system in the entire nation, yet the FY '07 budget shorts the payment another $1.1 billion. This is the second year of a five-year pension raid of $3.5 billion that will eventually cost taxpayers around $38.5 billion to repay over the 40-year payment schedule. We have burdened our children and grandchildren with debt so that spending can increase now. Play now, pay later!
If the budget were not bad enough, we have to add a few more troubling facts to the story. Even with the pension raids, the dedicated fund raids and the new revenue, the state's backlog of Medicaid bills is expected to reach almost $2 billion by June 30. Providers are waiting up to six months for reimbursement. Debt service in the FY '07 budget is expected to be about $1.6 billion; almost 7.4 cents of every dollar the state takes in now will go to service the debt, compared to 4 cents when the governor took office.
I understand that pension raids and bond indebtedness are not glitzy campaign issues and this is an election year. The truth is that it is difficult to get taxpayers to pay attention to the problems with this type of budget since, much like the individual household spiraling into uncontrollable debt, the problem is being put off into the future. But this issue is set to explode. This uncontrolled history of excessive borrowing and spending is placing our state government and taxpayers of Illinois in serious financial jeopardy.
Some people might wonder what is wrong with taking some money from dedicated funds in order to help fill the budget hole. There are many problems with this approach. First, people who pay into these funds trust that the money they are paying will go toward a specific purpose. When they pay money for entry into our state parks, the money is supposed to help maintain the parks; when they pay extra for veteran's license plates, they are told the money will go toward dedicated funds to help our vets; and when they pay for a gallon of gas people are told that a certain amount per gallon will go towards highway maintenance. To me, fund raiding is akin to stealing. So far, the fund raids have taken almost $1 million from the Veterans' Rehabilitation Fund!
To date, the fund sweeps in budgets passed by the majority party have totaled more than $1.2 billion. That is another $1.2 billion to support runaway spending for new programs that we cannot afford. This year, only $177 million is swiped from these funds. The fund balances are so low they cannot take any more. Keep in mind that these sweeps, pension raids and other gimmicks produce one-time revenue. The spending in these ever-growing budgets is permanent. Where will the money come from when the funds have been raided to a point that raiding is not an option, we have more than $2 billion in unpaid Medicaid bills and higher pension payments are due to make up for the raids?
The future will bear some difficult facts. We must rein in spending, pay down our escalating debt and adopt a zero-growth budget. There could be across-the-board reductions in order to end fund sweeps and borrowing which have been used to fund day-to-day state expenses. We need to adopt legislation that requires a three-fifths majority in both houses to spend taxpayers' money. Finally, we need to pass a constitutional amendment to make sure that a budget like this will get public hearings before it is passed.
The "drive-by" 2007 budget took about 36 hours from the time it was first made public until it passed. That is not nearly enough time for the plan to have the proper sunshine for "disinfectant" purposes. Over the next few weeks you will read about the pork in the budget. Around $577 million in nonspecific spending line items that appear to be special member projects provided to those legislators willing to vote for a budget that passes record debt on to our children. You will be disgusted to find out, for example, that there is a $30,000 item that will pay for a statue at Chicago State University to memorialize a public servant. Many people think that the item will be a bronze bust of Senate President Emil Jones. Nice to know that our grandkids helped pay for that type of self-indulgence.
Thanks for all input this session. Unless there is some type of breaking news, such as a special session for consideration of more borrowing, this will be the final column of the spring session. Thanks to all of the newspapers for the help in getting information to our constituents. If you have any comments, please write me at either P.O. Box 125, Hutsonville, IL 62433 or 222-N, Stratton office Building, Springfield, IL 62706, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will also keep you updated on my web site: www.peopleforeddy.com.
Rep. Roger Eddy (R-Hutsonville) represents the 109th District in the Illinois House of Representatives.