(Springfield, IL) — May 7, 2010. Could there be political gold even in a fiscal calamity?
The Illinois state budget promoted Illinois Democratic leaders, which was yesterday approved by the Illinois State Senate and now is being considered by the House, may offend public policy process idealists but could prove to be electoral genius for Democrats.
Confronted by both lawmakers and voters who oppose both severe budgets cuts to vital public services and higher taxes to pay for those services and the need to fill the $13 billion budget hole, Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) and House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) have crafted an ingenious solution.
The budget, which still leaves $6 billion of bills on a six-month payment cycle, imposes a 5% across-the-board cut to state operations—the state bureaucracy—to save $1.3 billion but leaves all other state services, including education, funded at the current year’s level. No cuts.
But there’s a catch.
The legislature would, however, also this year grant Governor Pat Quinn vast emergency budget powers to cut any part of the lump-sum budget–with virtually no line items–from any department and move money around to plug holes as the governor sees fit. Breath sucking power.
And Quinn will cut. Boy, will he cut. He must. And cuts could continue through the year, wreaking havoc on vendors’ planning. But expect no gubernatorial press releases on the cuts. Some cuts will leak to the news media, but some will not, muting their impact.
So, don’t go spending that money.
On the revenue side, tobacco securitization adds $1.75 billion, a funds sweep from restricted monies adds $1 billion, a tax amnesty hauls in $250 million, a $1 per pack cigarette tax raises $350 million, slot machines at Illinois race tracks capture $90 million for education, and a pension payment holiday or borrowing saves a whopping $3.8 billion. But there is no income tax increase. No sales tax increase.
Why is this a budget “solution”?
More than 87% of southern Illinois voters, for example, oppose budget cuts to elementary and secondary education and 58% oppose increasing the income tax from 3% to 4% and 64% of voters oppose increasing the sales tax, according to a recent Paul Simon Institute poll.
This budget gives the voters what they want.
Additionally, in this budget, lawmakers will vote for–and the governor will sign–a budget that produces—on the surface—no cuts to education or human services and neither income tax nor a broad sales tax increases.
Thus, lawmakers in difficult election campaigns will avoid direct mail or television ads attacking them for voting to cut education and other services or raising the income or sales tax—because they will have cast no such vote.
They will have given the voters what they had demanded.
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