Thursday, March 03, 2011

House moves toward spending cap

By Jamey Dunn

Illinois House members estimate that the state will have less to spend next fiscal year than Gov. Pat Quinn planned for in his budget proposal.

The House Revenue and Finance Committee estimates that the state has almost $33.2 billion to spend in fiscal year 2012. The projection is about $750 million less than Quinn’s revenue estimates and about $1.5 billion less than a projection put out by the legislature’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA).

“We took the most conservative estimates that were out there … and then we backed off the things that were not actually reality. … So we took off the things that were questionable that weren’t actually set in stone statutorily, and we came up with the most conservative numbers, something we thought would be reasonable for the state to actually meet,” said Rep. John Bradley, chairman of the committee.

Quinn’s budget counts on changes to the tax code that the General Assembly has not approved, including decoupling Illinois from a federal incentive meant to encourage businesses to purchase equipment. (For more on the federal provision and how it could affect Illinois’ and other states’ revenues, see Illinois Issues blog, March 1.)

Bradley, a Marion Democrat, said members of the Revenue and Finance Committee plan to work with the heads of House appropriations committees that make budgeting decisions for the various areas of state government, such as human services and K-12 education, to dole the money out. Bradley said each committee would get a specific allocation to work with.

“Obviously these [revenue projections] are all based on estimates. But this [$33.2 billion] is a hard number, and we’re going to stand firm. And we’re going to … try to allocate this as fairly as possible. This is how much money the state has to spend,” Bradley said.

“I think that they’re being conservative. The expectation is that revenues would be somewhat higher,” said Fred Giertz, an economics professor with the University of Illinois. Giertz testified before the committee earlier this week. He said the $34.8 billion estimate from COGFA is probably the most realistic projection of revenues for the next fiscal year. “If I had to guess, I think it’s probably more likely than the others.”

Giertz said he beleives legislators are trying to limit spending, and a good way to do that would be to stick to conservative estimates of the money they would have to work with. “[The committee’s estimate] may be more a strategic choice than a scientific choice.”

House Resolution 110, sponsored by Speaker Michael Madigan, contains the estimate. The Revenue Committee approved it today with no opposition, but the measure would have to pass the full House to make the number the spending cap for FY 2012.

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