State House OKs $2.1B spending plan
By Benjamin Yount
SPRINGFIELD — Illinois, already facing a $9-billion deficit and a $130-billion pension debt, is moving to write checks for $2.1 billion in mostly new spending.
The Illinois House today OK’d a supplemental appropriation bill that will spend $675 million on new construction projects, and send a little more than $30 million to the state’s beleaguered mental health and child and family service agencies.
“The executive branch asked for many, many million more,” said State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago. “This represents a pretty austere response to spend more.”
Currie defends the new spending, saying it is necessary.
Illinois owes more than $1 billion in employee health care bills dating back months. The new spending plan would pay $550 million, about half of what is owed.
The proposal would use unexpected dollars from higher gas tax receipts to pay for a host of construction projects, but some are going to raise eyebrows.
“This does not pass the smell test,” said State Rep. Ed Sullivan, R-Mundelein.
Sullivan takes issue with the $1 million for a children’s museum in Springfield, the $115,000 for a basketball hall of fame in Danville, and smaller items like a brand new $50,000 street sweeper for the village of North Riverside.
Most of those projects were included in the 2009 construction plan, and are just now being started.
State Rep. Darlene Senger, R-Naperville, said Illinois should pay its bills and send money to mental health programs, but the state should not be spending money that it doesn’t have to spend.
“We have an $8 billion-plus pension payment this year,” Senger said. “And it’s really concerning me that we are spending every dime that we can find when we know that we have to make cuts again.”
But it is not just the amount that is being spent, it is how the Democrat-controlled House is going about spending it.
The new spending plan has grown or shrunk several times during the past few days, from as little as $714 million to as much as $3 billion. The new spending plan, and its $2.1 billion price tag, was not finalized until just before the House vote.
“We are on the fiscal cliff” said State Rep. Patti Bellock, R-Hinsdale. “This process is like hitting a moving target. It’s in, it’s out, it’s in, it’s out all in a 48-hour period.”
Bellock said most lawmakers would support spending for the Department of Children and Family Services and mental health programs, but she believes the $2.1 billion in new spending sends a “horrible” message to Illinois voters and the bond-rating houses that have downgraded Illinois’ credit in recent months
State Rep. Scott Drury, D- Highwood, agreed.
“There is a complete lack of trust that the public has in our government, Drury said. “And when you watch what’s going on here, it’s clear why that’s happening.”
Contact Benjamin Yount at Ben@IllinoisWatchdog.org