Illinoisans suffer, politicians get paid should General Assembly fail to pass balanced budget

Jeffrey Schwab

Jeffrey Schwab is a senior attorney with the Liberty Justice Center.

Jeffrey Schwab
May 31, 2015

Illinoisans suffer, politicians get paid should General Assembly fail to pass balanced budget

If state lawmakers fail to pass a balanced budget by a three-fifths majority vote, essential programs will be harmed. But thanks to House Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, politicians will still get their paychecks.

UPDATE: This blog has been updated to reflect the Illinois General Assembly’s failure to pass a budget by the May 31 deadline.

Illinois state lawmakers failed to pass a balanced budget for fiscal year 2016 by May 31, and will now be called in for a continuous session in an attempt to pass a budget before the fiscal year starts July 1. That means any bills, including budget bills, will constitutionally require a three-fifths majority vote in each chamber of the Illinois General Assembly to pass.

If the General Assembly cannot pass a budget in special session by a supermajority, then the consequences for Illinoisans are severe. However, due to a law passed in the waning hours of last year’s spring legislative session, state lawmakers will be no worse for wear.

For the state government to spend any money on anything, the General Assembly must make an appropriation. The Illinois Constitution requires the General Assembly to make appropriations by law as part of a balanced budget – that is, a budget in which the state does not spend any more than it expects to take in. The Illinois Supreme Court has shown that it is willing to enforce this requirement regardless of the consequences. In 1991, it prohibited the comptroller from issuing paychecks to state employees because the General Assembly had not passed an appropriation to pay state employees that the governor had signed into law.

So if the General Assembly fails to pass a budget for fiscal year 2016, funds would not be appropriated – and could not be spent – for a wide variety of items for which it makes appropriations on an annual basis, starting July 1, including money going to education, the Department of Corrections, state police, court systems, the Department of Children and Family Services, and the Department of Human Rights.

But not all state spending would stop – funding for some programs and operations is allocated through what’s called a “continuing appropriation,” which continues each year automatically. Last year, House Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton worked together to introduce and pass a law ensuring legislator salaries and operating expenses were funded on a continuing basis.

This means that if lawmakers fail to pass a balanced budget by the deadline, they will still get paid, even as many state workers may not and state services are significantly cut back or suspended.

Some of the other programs and operations funded by continuing appropriations include:

  • Pension payments
  • Debt and interest payments
  • Fire-truck, ambulance and fire-station revolving loan programs
  • State guarantees for loans to farmers and agribusiness

Also appropriated on a continuing basis are expenditures that come from special funds, not the general fund, such as the Illinois Tax Increment Fund, Local Government Tax Fund, County and Mass Transit District Fund, School Construction Bond Retirement and Interest Fund, and the Corporate Franchise Tax Refund Fund.

Finally, any initiative funded primarily by federal dollars would continue unharmed in the absence of a budget, because that money would continue to be provided and is usually earmarked for a specific purpose.

Without appropriations, the governor is powerless to spend funds on a program, or even to move funds from programs and services appropriated on a continuing basis to others that are not. Now, the only way for money to be appropriated for the fiscal year starting July 1 is by a law passed by three-fifths of the General Assembly.

The people of Illinois deserve a balanced state budget that addresses the fiscal problems facing this state without further crippling the economy with burdensome tax increases. They also deserve to know what will happen if the General Assembly fails to do so in time.

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