Proposed bill would prohibit unfunded mandates, require revenue for all discretionary spending

Proposed bill would prohibit unfunded mandates, require revenue for all discretionary spending

The Taxpayer Fiscal Charter Act would demand funding transparency before spending bills make their way out of Springfield.

Despite a constitutional amendment mandating a balanced budget, Illinois hasn’t passed a fiscally sound budget since 2001.

However, a new bill in Springfield aims to restrain the spending excesses of state lawmakers by bringing more transparency to the budgeting process.

Establishing the Taxpayer Fiscal Charter Act, House Bill 4229 would impose a freeze on discretionary spending in the short term and stricter requirements on bills that increase government spending in the long term, by requiring any new spending proposals to have an attached revenue proposal saying where the money to pay for the program will come from.

Filed Jan. 9 by state Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer, R-Jacksonville, the bill freezes discretionary spending in fiscal years 2019 and 2020. The freeze would be thawed in fiscal year 2021, but requires lawmakers to determine a revenue source for any discretionary spending before putting it up for a vote.

Discretionary spending, defined by HB 4229, involves any “spending not mandated by federal or State law or court order.” That includes any money that goes through the general state budgeting process.

The short-term spending freeze would deny lawmakers the ability to “expand any existing programs or create new programs requiring the expenditure of additional money” until fiscal year 2021.

Discretionary spending could increase in fiscal year 2021, but greater hurdles would first have to be cleared. For example, bills that necessitate increased public spending could only advance in the General Assembly if the state has made its full pension payment for the fiscal year.

In addition, bills affixed to increased expenditures could only be voted on if Springfield’s “backlog payment cycle is 30 days or less.” This would mean that if a creditor’s request for payment sits on the state comptroller’s desk for longer than 30 days, the General Assembly’s wallet would be sealed shut until the state’s bills are paid.

Once these standards are met, proposed discretionary spending would demand assurances that such spending can be paid for. Each dollar of proposed spending would be accompanied by a proposed source of revenue, such as tax increases, or spending cuts.

Lawmakers would also be offered a portrait of the Land of Lincoln’s overall fiscal health before advancing a bill that expands discretionary spending, as the comptroller would be required to make public the state’s “estimated income, balance sheet, cash flow, and surplus or deficit” before the bill reaches the governor’s desk.

The measure would also introduce local level reforms. HB 4229 forbids state policymakers from committing local governments and school districts to programs whose cost can’t be accounted for. “No school district or other unit of local government shall be required to comply with an unfunded mandate until the mandate is no longer unfunded,” the proposal states.

These reforms could force transparency and accountability in the budgeting process. By tying Springfield’s spending capacity to the stability on its books, HB 4229 would apply needed pressure on lawmakers to get their finances in order before committing their beleaguered state to ever-more reckless spending practices.

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