Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Let's be clear

Yes, Gov. Rod Blagojevich cut $1.4 billion out of the state budget, but even House Minority Leader Tom Cross recently said the governor didn’t have a choice. The Illinois General Assembly approved a budget that, by the governor’s count, authorized spending $2 billion more than it could afford.

While the state Senate approved a few revenue ideas that would pay for the extra spending, the House did not. The Democratic leadership said it’s up to the governor to balance the budget, so legislators expected the governor to make such cuts. Blagojevich had to either cut the increased spending over last year’s amounts or, as he described it, write checks that bounce.

So now the scene has been set for the House to vote this week on whether to restore some or all of the funding cuts. Democrats likely will have enough votes to advance the restored funding levels; yet, the House is unlikely to approve the revenue ideas needed to pay for the increased spending. The budget overrides also would need Senate approval within 15 days. In that chamber, Democratic leadership so far has been disinclined to return to Springfield before the annual November session, particularly if the House only restores funding levels without the associated revenue enhancements.

The scenario increases the likelihood that at least some or most of the funding levels will remain as enacted by the governor, at least until November.

There is a chance the House could approve one quasi revenue enhancement, but it just transfers money from dedicated accounts to the state’s general account. The so-called fund sweeps have been estimated to free up about $300 million to spend on whatever the House specifies, potentially human services.

Don’t expect a whole lot of Republicans to support that plan, and don’t count on the Senate to suddenly go along with fund sweeps that Senate President Emil Jones Jr. recently dismissed as a “drop in the bucket.”

At a Statehouse news conference this morning, Republican Caucus Chairman Rep. Dan Brady of Bloomington said it would be extremely difficult for GOP members to “pick and choose” which funding cuts to restore when Republicans never approved extra spending in the first place. (The caucus united in late May to cast “no” votes on the spending plan crafted by Democrats, but Democrats, the majority party, had enough votes by themselves to approve the budget bills.) Brady added that his caucus historically has opposed transferring money out of dedicated funds into the state’s general fund, although they're caucusing right now to decide where they stand.

That’s a brief synopsis of how we got here. When considering where we could go, look toward November. The House Democrats and the governor could swap a few jabs at each other in the meantime, particularly as it gets closer to the November 4 elections. However, little might change before then.

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