Thursday, March 06, 2014

Senate approves revenue estimate

By Jamey Dunn

The Senate today approved a revenue estimate already passed by the House. According to the projection, the state will have about $1 billion less to spend in the next fiscal year.

The revenue projection of $34.495 billion is based on estimates from the bipartisan Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability's (COGFA). Revenue will drop substantially from the current fiscal year because the state’s temporary income tax increase will begin to step down during the second half of Fiscal Year 2015.

Sen. Dan Kotowski, a Democrat from Park Ridge, said that the approval of a revenue estimate at the beginning of the spring session, something lawmakers have done the past few years, is an improvement on the budgeting process. “We’re identifying available revenue first,” and then deciding how to spend it, he said. “We used to do it based on what we were going to spend first.”

 While the revenue estimate passed with strong bipartisan support in the House, Republicans in the Senate took issue with the numbers. They argued that the estimate sweeps about $400 million of general revenue into special funds, and therefore makes the loss of revenue for next fiscal year look even worse. Palatine Republican Sen. Mat Murphy said he suspects that Democrats may by trying to make the situation look worse “to try to justify continuing the tax increase.” He cautioned that whatever the revenue estimate is, lawmakers should not consider it all money that they can spend next fiscal year because the state still has billions of unpaid bills. Republican Sen. Kyle McCarter said, “This is creative accounting, and typically creative accountants would go the jail.”

Senate President John Cullerton noted that the use of special funds for budgeting is standard practice in Illinois and about half of the money in the budget is in such funds. “We’re not hiding it. It’s just not considered to be part of the General Revenue Fund,” he said. “It’s not a conspiracy.”

The estimate is not legally binding, but lawmakers have generally stuck to them since the process began  the process in 2011. If that continues this year, expect cuts to spending in core areas of the state budget, such as education.

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