Rep. Fortner Releases Statement on State Budget

The state finances have been at an impasse for over two years. During that time I have said that I am looking for 3 R's to get beyond the impasse: Reductions, Revenue, and Reforms. I believe we are at the point where we need to honestly consider what is before us. As I look at the bills that we have passed and those before us, I think those standards have been met and I support going forward.

Due to court orders we are spending at a rate set by our 2015 appropriations. This cost us nearly $39 billion last year. We only took in about $32 billion in revenue, and that $7 billion difference has resulted in a backlog of bills that now stand at $15 billion. The only solutions are to reduce spending, raise revenue, or craft a combination of both.

Back in April I analyzed the last bipartisan negotiated budget, which was passed 5 years ago. That budget was balanced based on $33.7 billion in both revenues and spending. I used that budget to analyze what we might be spending had we held firm to the basic parameters that were agreed upon back then. I adjusted those budget numbers for mandated debt and the cost of inflation. I found that a current budget of $36.3 billion would result. Clearly $36.3 billion in expenses cannot be supported with $32 billion in revenue. A realistic baseline budget needs over $4 billion in new revenue to be balanced.

On Friday we were presented with a budget amendment that would spend $36.5 billion over the next fiscal year. That is clearly a reduction from our current level of spending and is very close to what I calculated would be a reasonable budget a few months ago.

That leaves revenue. There are any number of taxes that could be used to close the gap. Bipartisan negotiations in the Senate this spring focused on the income tax as the primary revenue source that should be used. That choice may not be my preference, but it does meet the revenue needed to match the spending reductions in the budget.

When we voted on the budget amendment, we didn't vote on the full bill. Some would say you shouldn't vote on new taxes without having a spending plan in place. I note that the Illinois Constitution requires us to only approve spending that can be supported by the expected revenue. The intellectually honest vote is to set the amount of revenue, then approve spending to that level. We cast that vote today.

A balanced budget isn't the only thing we need. We also need reforms to make Illinois more competitive and bring us sound governance. We have approved significant reforms to local government, procurement, and pensions. We can and should do more, but the reforms we have passed should not be understated. We need to continue with other items that have been negotiated, including more substantial changes to property taxes and workers compensation. While important those next steps should not diminish the reforms we have passed.

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