Munger: Finances bad and getting worse

By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD — If nothing changes, Illinois will enter calendar year 2016 with about $8.5 billion in unpaid bills, the state comptroller said Wednesday.

And that’s not the whole of it.

The $8.5 billion figure only accounts for what the state is now spending to cover costs Illinois must pay to stay right with consent decrees, court orders and current law, Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger said.

Payments for costs being incurred but not now being made because of the lack of a budget — for instance, higher education and commercial spending — would add another $4.3 billion per year, she said.

There’s nothing terribly mysterious about the cause.

“This is a result spending more money than we are taking in and operating our state without a budget,” the comptroller said.

Illinois’ general fund revenue for fiscal year 2016 (July of 2015 through June of 2016) is expected to be about $4.5 billion less than the previous year, in large part due to the rollback of the 2011 temporary increases in personal and corporate income taxes.

But even without a budget, Illinois is paying out on 90 percent of its expenses, and the payouts are at those of 2015 spending levels, she said.

“This is an unsustainable situation,” Munger said. “We are spending more money in our state than we are bringing in. “

Munger called the situation a “recipe for disaster” that is serving no one well.

“The people in my office who have to do this are performing triage every day just to make sure we live up to the commitments that we are making in the state,” the comptroller said.

Munger said her staff is doing what it can to get expedited payments out to human service providers facing “unique hardship,” which sometimes amounts to imminent closure if those providers aren’t paid.

Still, she said, triage is about the best she can manage, because the state is obligated to make payments on timelines specified by court orders and to cover scheduled statutory obligations, such as payroll.

The mess is causing extraordinary confusion and frustration for service providers and people who need those services, Munger said.

Her office is receiving about 5,000 calls weekly, she added.

While Munger said she’ll do all she can, she can’t pass or approve a budget.

“I ask the General Assembly and the governor to sit down, to get together, to find common ground and to pass a balanced budget immediately,” the comptroller said.

Illinois cannot continue on the path it’s on, she said.

“We’re at a point right now where we can’t even tax our way out of this,” Munger said.

Republicans led by Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democrats, who control the General Assembly with supermajorities in both chambers, have been unable to reach a deal on the budget for fiscal 2016.

Rauner complains the Democrats have sent him a spending plan that’s $4 billion heavier in spending than estimated revenue.

Democrats complain Rauner and the GOP have been unwilling to work with them on a plan until the governor gets movement on his own agenda items, which Democrats do not consider directly related to the annual budget.

Democrats, particularly House Speaker Michael Madigan, have argued the budget deficit is the state’s No. 1 problem and will require a combination of revenue increases and spending cuts to solve.

While Rauner has indicated he’s willing to discuss the numbers, he’s not signing off on more revenue until he gets what he considers fundamental reforms to the state’s political and economic environments. He maintains that without those changes, Illinois is going to stay in a non-competitive rut and every year’s budget will be a crisis budget.

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