Wednesday, March 16, 2011

House and Senate disagree on revenues

By Jamey Dunn and Lauren N. Johnson

The Illinois Senate’s revenue estimate is $1 billion more than the number the Illinois House approved as the ceiling for state spending in the next fiscal year.

The Senate arrived at its projection of almost $34.3 billion by taking the nearly $34.9 billion estimate from the legislature’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) and trimming away about $600 million in revenues that would require a break from the federal tax code. The General Assembly has not approved the change needed for those revenues to be realized.

The House has opted for a more conservative estimate of almost $33.2 billion. Gov. Pat Quinn estimates the state will have almost $34 billion to spend on next year’s budget. Quinn’s projection also includes money from the proposed change to the tax code.

COGFA Director Dan Long said the commission’s estimate is more than Quinn’s because of a timing issue with revenues from the recent income tax increase. Long said that some of the money from the increase expected in the current fiscal year will not actually come in until FY 2012. He said the shift is not reflected in Quinn’s numbers.

Some Republican members of the Senate Revenue Committee, which approved the estimate today, said they were concerned with the difference of more than $1 billion in the amounts estimated by both legislative chambers.

Sen. Chris Lauzen, an Aurora Republican, asked, “Why would we ever take a higher assumption when the folks that are running the government are saying, ‘Well, this is what we think it will be.' Why would we even take that risk of having a billion-dollar higher assumption?”

Chicago Democratic Sen. Heather Steans, sponsor of the Senate resolution that contains the estimate, said that COGFA's projections have historically been accurate. She added that because the Senate's projection is a joint resolution, the House would also have to approve it. “We will send it to the House they may decide to take it up,” Steans said, “or they may use their estimate, which is fine. We will both go about creating our budgets, and if they are different, then we will go to a conference committee at the end of session and reconcile.” The House's estimate, which has already passed, is in a standard resolution, so it does not need Senate approval.

Meanwhile, a House committee approved today a breakdown of the nearly $33.2 billion it estimates legislators have to dole out to different areas of government. House appropriations committees will each be given a percentage of available funds to work with. Human services would see largest portion with 50.361 percent of total revenues. K-12 education would come next with 28.742 percent of the pot. Higher education would get 8.761 percent, public safety 6.978 percent and 5.158 percent would go toward “general services” spending. House Resolution 156 now awaits a full House vote.

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