To avoid ‘nightmare’ cuts, state leaders must fight for federal funds while balancing budget

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We’ve all known for months that COVID-19 would wreck the state’s already precarious finances.

And now that we’re beginning to see the extent of the possible damage caused by the $6 billion budget gap, it’s clear that Springfield and Washington D.C. must work together — harder and more bipartisan than they ever have — to gain more federal stimulus funding while getting Illinois’ fiscal house in order.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker warned this week of a “nightmare scenario” budget with substantial across the board cuts and possible layoffs of thousands of state workers.

And in a letter written Wednesday to the state’s congressional delegation, Pritzker urged the lawmakers to find bipartisan solutions to bail out the state.

“Forcing states and local governments to make massive budget cuts is harming our nation’s economic recovery and will have devastating consequences on businesses, schools, first responders, working families and everyday Illinoisans who are already suffering,” he said.

Illinois isn’t the only state in financial distress because of COVID-19. The double whammy of substantially reduced tax revenue and the increased costs of doing government’s business has created a national crisis affecting nearly every state.

Washington D.C.’s non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports that California could face a $32 billion drop in state government revenue in 2021. And predominantly Republican states are not immune. Texas faces a $4.4 billion decline this year, according to the center.

Florida is expected to lose $7 billion in revenue between 2020 and 2022.

“Estimates show that revenues for the current fiscal year, which began on July 1 for most states, could fall as much as or more than they did in the worst year of the Great Recession and remain depressed in following years,” according to the report.

And the recession likely will be deep, which is why trillions more in federal stimulus money to state and local governments will be needed — a truth U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Donald Trump must face.

As we’ve argued here before, citizens need robust and functional state and local governments in order to get through this pandemic.

Weakened governments too poor to adequately serve the public’s needs are a liability in times like these. They also collect no less taxes, by the way.

This means both parties in Illinois’ congressional delegation must fight for more federal stimulus funding to cover the tsunami of pandemic-related expenses, while Pritzker and state legislators do the hard, necessary work needed to bring the rest of the state’s finances in order.

It’s not “either/or.” It’s “both.”

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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September 17, 2020 at 05:12PM

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