Illinois House members address urgent need to balance state budget

Illinois House members address urgent need to balance state budget

Democrats in the Illinois House are leading the push for a constitutional amendment that would require the state to balance its budget – a feat state lawmakers haven’t achieved since 2001.

Five Democratic members of the Illinois House of Representatives have sponsored a proposed constitutional amendment that would give the state a truly balanced budget.

House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 27 would bind state spending to state revenue each fiscal year. It specifically would prohibit counting debt, refinancing or fund sweeps as revenue – accounting games state leaders have played for years. Most importantly, it would bring Illinois in line with the majority of states by requiring the budget to balance at the end of the fiscal year, rather than just during the planning stage. Illinois is one of just 11 states that allow annual deficits to be carried from one year to the next.

State Rep. Jaime Andrade Jr., D-Chicago, introduced the resolution Feb. 15. Four peers on Feb. 27 joined him as chief co-sponsors: state Reps. Jerry Costello II, D-Smithton; Terra Costa Howard, D-Glen Ellyn; Monica Bristow, D-Godfrey; and Mary Edly-Allen, D-Libertyville. The resolution is in the House Rules Committee.

HJRCA 27 has also received support from the other side of the aisle, with five Republican lawmakers sponsoring the proposal Feb. 28.

The proposed amendment would be an important step toward regaining control of state finances and enforcing honesty in the budgeting process. Illinois last balanced its state budget in 2001. The past two fiscal years each ended with accrued deficits of nearly $8 billion, and the current fiscal year is expected top that amount. Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s first proposed budget for fiscal year 2020 is $3.2 billion out of whack.

The state also routinely uses accounting tricks, borrowing, fund sweeps and refinancing to spend more money than it has.

For example, Illinois does not consider its money to be spent until the bill is paid. If it followed generally accepted accounting practices, it would consider that money spent as soon as the expenditure is authorized. The current system has allowed the state to build an $8 billion backlog of unpaid bills and continue spending – much like someone who figures there is still money in an empty checking account because the person still has checks. Someone – in this case Illinois taxpayers – will eventually be called upon to make good on the debt.

Other fiscal tricks have included moving money around to different funds and sweeping money out of funds set aside for specific purposes. In 2017, the state shuffled $275 million, and in 2015 it was $2 billion. Fiscal years 2010 and 2011 were banner years when fiscal gymnastics allowed the state to overspend by $6 billion and $5.5 billion, respectively.

More state lawmakers should join the effort to give Illinois an honest, balanced budget. Illinoisans can sign this petition to make clear that the games need to end before taxpayers end up even bigger losers.

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