Last-minute Illinois budget riddled with errors

Last-minute Illinois budget riddled with errors

Because Illinois state lawmakers waited until the last minute to pass a budget, no one noticed multiple errors that could have halted about half of the state’s spending until a month before the fiscal year ended. Haste makes waste of taxpayer dollars.

Illinois lawmakers introduced and approved the state’s $42.3 billion budget in the dead of night June 1, giving legislators mere hours to review the 4,000-page spending proposal.

Two weeks later, Gov. J.B. Pritzker was forced to issue an amendatory veto on the budget legislation. Multiple bill drafting errors meant 47% of the state’s operating and capital budgets could not be spent until a month before the fiscal year was to end – June 1, 2022. The intent was to start spending this July 1, the start of fiscal year 2022 in Illinois.

“We have a legislative process that is designed to give transparency and allow people to have input in that process but instead of embracing this, what we see (from the majority party) is a continuous desire to operate through an expeditious process, in the dark of the night, without any transparency that results in things like this: chaos,” said state Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington.

He said the errors should have been caught. Lawmakers did not have enough time to fully read the budget and associated spending bills before voting on them.

The lack of transparency also allowed Pritzker and legislative leaders to claim they passed a balanced budget without tax increases. A closer look showed both claims were false: the budget contains at least a $482 million hole and a $655 million tax hike.

Illinois lawmakers have nearly perfected the Madigan-era tactic of waiting until the last hours of session to publicly share the budget for the new fiscal year. As the former House speaker’s adage goes: negotiate in secret, vote when it is too late for opposition.

In 2019, lawmakers proposed and passed a $40 billion budget and $45 billion infrastructure plan in less than 24 hours after needing to go into an overtime session because they failed to pass them during the regular session. In 2018 lawmakers revealed a 1,245-page budget just five hours before passing it.

This tactic allows state lawmakers to keep voters and their representatives in the dark on key spending issues until the last minute. As a result, lawmakers must choose between approving a budget they know little about or not passing a state budget altogether.

“It’s important to note that it need not be this way,” Barickman said. “What does it say about the Legislature and about the majority that while countless people were sleeping in the state, you rushed through a $42 billion budget so fatally flawed that you had to use a procedural mechanism that even [former Speaker Michael] Madigan wouldn’t use to rescue it?”

Last-minute budgeting with little review has contributed to Illinois’ current fiscal mess. Forcing lawmakers to read thousands of pages of legislation in hours has consistently meant passing bad budgets out of balance by billions of dollars.

This absence of transparency has allowed the state to go two decades without a truly balanced budget, despite being constitutionally required to have one.

The amendment setting new effective dates for the budget bill was approved by a three-fifths majority in the Senate, 36-21, on June 15 and in the House, 71-44, on June 16.

The spending plan can now take effect July 1.

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