Illinois’ political calendar will determine the legislative calendar in Springfield.
Illinois legislators were back in Springfield last week, engaging in more of the political malpractice that passes for doing the public’s business.
If they have it their way, they’ll act in haste, paving the way for the rest of us to lament their actions in leisure. Leaders of supermajority Democrats in the House and Senate say they intend to be finished with their handiwork, most importantly the new state budget, by April 8.
That’s well ahead of the usual late-May adjournment date. This being an election year – the primary election is June 29 and the general election Nov. 8 – legislators want to have plenty of extra time to tell their constituents what a wonderful job they’re doing.
But even that early end is a ways off – roughly three cold, wintry months – and the often-tough budget slog is dead ahead.
House Speaker Chris Welch disingenuously has stated that he hopes the new state spending plan will allow the state to “continue down that path of financial stability.”
That’s a worthy goal. But Illinois hasn’t been following a path of financial stability for almost two decades. Instead, our elected officials have chosen debts and deficits camouflaged by deceit and budget gimmicks to con the public about the true state of the state’s finances.
Even as Gov. JB Pritzker, who inherited a fiscal mess, talks about a balanced 2022-23 budget being his “top priority,” expect more of the usual fiscal sleight of hand.
Our leaders are happiest when they can spend, spend, spend, even if the state doesn’t have the money. So they’ll get plenty of exercise wrestling with the temptation to appropriate roughly $3.6 billion left over from last year’s $8.1 billion federal coronavirus bailout money.
That may seem like a big pile of cash to fall back on if the spending plans stress expected revenues. But it’s important to remember that the state owes far more than that – $4.5 billion – to the federal unemployment insurance trust fund.
That $4.5 billion debt is running at 2.27 percent interest. State Comptroller Susana Mendoza has asked federal officials to pause the interest.
There’s no harm in asking. After all, if one doesn’t ask, one doesn’t get. But hoping that lenders will forego agreed-upon interest is not usually the most effective way to handle serious financial challenges.
This being an election year, legislators also are talking about lowering property taxes.
Property taxes are imposed by local taxing bodies that state officials cannot control. But it’s a good talking point because financially stressed taxpayers’ eyes light up when legislators raise the topic. But just as it is with discussion about a balanced budget, so, too, it is with recent talk of legislative action on property-tax relief.
In August 2019, the governor appointed with great fanfare an 88-member property-tax task force to come up with proposals on how to reduce property taxes. Deadlines for its report on the subject came and went with no response.
Given that track record, it’s hard to be optimistic that much positive will be forthcoming on property-tax relief.
Here’s what the public can expect. Supermajority Democrats will act on the issues they deem important in their own way. Superminority Republicans will publicly complain but mostly be ignored, except when the governor criticizes them for being the obstructionists they aren’t but would love to be.
The public has seen this movie before. The only difference is that it will conclude earlier than usual, Illinois’ idea of a happier ending.