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State Senate looks to raid funds to pay old bills

May 23, 2012

By Andrew Thomason
Illinois Statehouse News

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — To pay down overdue bills, Illinois Senate Democrats want to siphon cash from special funds that support myriad projects — including Boy and Girl Scouts, tourism, energy assistance and transit development.

The fund raids are part of a broader budget crafted by Senate Democrats that was approved in part by a senate committee May 21. The proposal wants to use $403 million from more than 500 special funds to pay down $8.5 billion in overdue bills the state owes vendors and schools.

Senate Democrats project $1.9 billion in special funds will go unspent by the end of fiscal year 2013.

State Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, is carrying several pieces of legislation that make up the Senate Democrats’ budget. She said the raids would be a one-time event and said the state would not reimburse the funds.

Targeted special funds include Autism Awareness Fund, Boy Scout and Girl Scout Fund, Coal Mining Regulatory Fund, Drug Treatment Fund, Insurance Financial Regulation Fund, Military Affairs Trust, Pesticide Control Fund, Real Estate License Administration Fund and Youth Drug Abuse Prevention Fund.

We found other dollars, we found this, for lack of a better word, these stashes of money,” state Sen. Donne Trotter, D-Chicago, said May 21.

Senate Republicans attacked the Democrats for spending more than the $33.7 billion revenue estimate the General Assembly agreed to budget by earlier this spring.

State Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, said spending more than $33.7 billion would put the legislature on track to maintain last year’s income tax increase when it sunsets in 2014.

Speaking during a rare Springfield press conference May 21, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) would not say whether he supports raids.

An Illinois Supreme Court ruling last year paved the way for the Senate Democrats’ plan. In that case, the court considered the legality of the legislature’s 2004 sweep of $1.2 million from the Cycle Rider Safety Training Fund. The fund is supported by a percentage of motorcycle registration fees and funds motorcycle training courses around the state.

The Supreme Court ruled that all money paid to state funds may be used at the state’s discretion, regardless of the fund’s purpose.

The pain isn’t over for the Cycle Rider Safety Training Fund: Senate Democrats said they may tap it again this year.

Andrew Thomason can be reached at andrew.thomason@illinoisstatehousenews.com.

From the May 23-29, 2012, issue

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