Eye On Illinois: Will lawmakers show continued fiscal discipline in coming weeks?


“Fiscal responsibility isn’t easy, nor is it a one-time fix. It’s an annual effort that requires persistence.”

Absent additional context, it’s hard to disagree with the sentiment as relates to state government. Here’s more of the quote:

“It requires conservative revenue estimates, as all of my budget proposals have. But when done right, consistent balanced budgets strengthen the institutions our residents rely upon, creates new opportunities for success, and makes life easier for the people of Illinois.”

Scott T. Holland

Scott T. Holland

Astute readers will by now have identified the speaker as Gov. JB Pritzker and placed the excerpt as part of his Feb. 15 state of the state and budget address. He opened with a victory lap, touting eradication of a $17 billion bill backlog and $4.5 billion unemployment trust fund debt, establishment of a $2.3 billion rainy day fund and more, starkly different conditions from recent years.

Pritzker’s detractors responded with questions about how much credit for financial improvements belongs to federal funding and skepticism about the plausibility of long-term stability given Pritzker’s ideas for increasing the scope of state services. Some allies sought budget line items to endorse lofty priorities, such as the Illinois Association for Behavioral Health’s stated pledge to “advocate vigorously to align spending with the speech’s ambitious sentiments.”

In the ensuing two months, although lawmakers have been busy and there are no shortage of “how will we pay for it?” questions, the most significant work on the budget waits for the remaining 20 General Assembly session days, beginning a week from today.

One thing we did get in the interim was a new three-year forecast from the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability. As Jerry Nowicki explains in a Capitol News Illinois piece last week, current projections have state spending outpacing base revenues over three fiscal years. Four different model scenarios showing a deficit by 2026, the smallest at $500 million and the largest at $9.1 billion. The bill backlog could return to $18 billion if spending growth continues at its five-year average.

I could fill the rest of this week’s columns with other numbers and projections from the report, and it’s important to remember COGFA can only estimate given the available information. Lawmakers had a great degree of influence over the short-term fiscal outlook, whether or not they take some of the commission’s suggestions.

The budget isn’t the only thing worth watching over the next five weeks, but lawmakers ought to have no single priority greater than applying the persistence necessary to exercise continued fiscal responsibility. They need no guidance beyond the Commission’s concluding advice:

“The state needs to continue to show fiscal discipline and demonstrate that the results of the past few years are not an anomaly.”

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on Twitter @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.

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April 11, 2023 at 05:27AM

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