What Budget Crisis? Revenues Down; Spending Requests Up

Even before must of us could navigate to Gov. Pat Quinn's "preliminary" budget posted on the Internet, the beefing already had begun by the special interests whose pots of money this year would be a little lighter.

The Chicago Teachers Union was among those first to bellyache about some $2 billion less in Quinn's budget, a big hunk of which was supposed to flow into teacher pay raises and fatter pensions. Chicago public schools chief Ron Huberman said the hole created in his budget by the lower state subsidies could climb to almost $1 billion.

Yet, and yet, the CTU is upset, not because teachers will get smaller paychecks, but because they won't get larger ones. They're supposed to get a 4 percent raise, amounting to $169 million, and a 91 percent increase (that's not a typo), amounting to $279, in teacher pension payments. Displaying such upset when everyone else (that is to say everyone not in a public employees' union) is hurting takes gonads.

Hip checking the CTU for first place in the whining line comes Voices for Illinois Children, whose philosophy is that anyone who doesn't buy into their ever-constant demands for more dough to "meet desperate needs" of "the children" must be akin to the child-eating W.C. Fields. Again, the plea wasn't just to keep the funding they've got, but for "new revenues."

At least State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) was politically astute enough to temporarily hold up his legislation giving same sex partners of Chicago teachers pension benefits as a surviving partner.

I'm constantly amazed at how, no matter how wide the spigot is open and whether the reservoir has already been drained dry, some folks are not seeing the necessity of restraint, but are consumed with demanding ever more. These "providers" act as if they are pleading for their first penny of taxpayer assistance, even though they've been getting it for years. In ever-increasing amounts.

Take the Illinois budget. We might assume from the crabbing going on that state spending has been in deep freefall for years. Not really. Except for the atypical and recent slippage caused by the recession, expenditures have increased, through good times and bad.

Here are the percentage increases in the state's general funds expenditures

1999 +9.4%

2000 +6.7%

2001 +7%

2002 +2.2%

2003 -1.0%

2004 +6.0%

2005 +7.1%

2006 +.7%

2007 +5.8%

In those nine years, expenditures altogether increased by 45 percent. One might reasonably ask: What happened in those nine years requiring such a huge percentage increase? Did any of us see a raise like that in our paychecks?

Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes recently reported that in the past two fiscal years, while revenues were falling, expenditures were rising. Total expenditures in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2009 were $34.2 billion compared with $31.2 billion for the prior year. Revenues were $31.9 billion, compared with $33.2 billion the year before.

This bears emphasis. In the middle of recession, when state revenues were going down, state spending was going up. Amazing.

More recently, Quinn's proposed fiscal year 2011 budget would return expenditures to what they were about a half dozen years ago. Back, you know, when absolutely nothing was spent on schools and the rest of the state's consumptive social programs. Could the rest of us get along with what we were spending six years ago? I suspect most of us are, and not by choice.

IllinoisIsBroke.com, a project of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago has other interesting and informative ways of looking at the debacle: Noting that each Illinois household's share of the state amounts to $25,000, the group illuminated a simple, devastating cause:

"Basically, Illinois spends $3 for every $2 it takes in."

How long could Illinois households continue to function this way? You'd have to do the same thing that Illinois does: borrow more or just ignore the bills (to the tune of a couple of billion dollars).

This year, the state will ring up another $14 billion deficit; even Quinn's proposed spending cuts of $2 billion won't do more than nick the red ink. Why?

The group points out that "Illinois' pension debt has grown significantly over the past 10 years. As much as 91 percent of Illinois' total debt is now due to pensions and retiree health care." Moreover, "continuing along the current path, without budget cuts or reforms, would require a disastrous increase in state taxes. To cover its funding deficit with taxes alone, Illinois would need to raise personal income taxes to 8.2% and corporate taxes to 13.1%. And that's just to pay our bills; it won't even address the debt."

Dwell on that, governor, when you hear the special interests try to guilt you into ever more money.

This column is posted on the Chicago Daily Observer


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  • Again,what don't they understand.We don't have the money.....Please CUT the spending.CUT,CUT and CUT again.HELLO SPRINGFIELD WAKE UP AND SMELL THE COFFEE.........................

  • While Mr. Byrne accuses Voices for Illinois Children of "hip-checking," let's do a little fact-checking.

    The columnist has it exactly backward. Voices does not at all seek "new revenues" to do lots of new things, unless you count as "new things" the idea of living-up to our obligations to education and other vital health and human services. We seek "new" revenues precisely to stop the bleeding - and to try to help Illinois hang onto the services the state already has, but has begun to devastate through major budget cuts and payment delays. We seek "new" revenues because there are no "old" revenues - the state is sitting in a $13 billion revenue hole for the coming fiscal year.

    Throughout Illinois, preschool programs for at-risk kids are closing ... mental health providers are shutting-down ... after-school services for troubled teens are going out of business. In most cases, these are small businesses that are shedding employees and adding to the unemployment rate, all because the state can't live up to its current obligations to them. And the struggling families who need their services are the ones who suffer most.

    Voices for Illinois Children is not a provider of any of these services or a recipient of their funding. We work toward public-policy solutions - and a balanced approach to our state's revenue problems, an approach that includes "new" revenues in addition to finding new efficiencies, is the only way out of the mess we're in - Sean Noble, director of government relations, Voices for Illinois Children

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