This week in Illinois

General Assembly Pay Freeze
House Republicans unanimously co-sponsor bill to block pay increase for FY16; General Assembly approves measure. The automatic 2% “cost of living” pay increase was scheduled to automatically go into effect for the State fiscal year starting July 1, 2015. Many House Republican members do not think the General Assembly deserves to enjoy a pay hike at a time when many Illinois workers have their pay and benefits frozen or cannot find work at all. HB 576 freezes cost-of-living adjustments and other benefit compensations for General Assembly members and other high-ranking elected and appointed State officials in FY16. The bill received final General Assembly approval on Wednesday, August 5, and was sent to the Governor.

House Republicans unanimously supported and helped pass HB 576, and all 47 Republican members were co-sponsors of the measure in the House. The Governor has expressed support for the concept of freezing the pay of Illinois’ top elected officials, and is expected to sign the bill.

FY16 Budget Crisis
Federal funds budget could move, may meet some emergency needs. The Illinois Senate has approved a bill, SB 2042, to appropriate the federal funds allocated to Illinois in FY16 for spending and use. Programs that operate senior centers, Women, Infants and Children supplemental nutrition efforts, adult education programs, and home weatherization assistance offices are among the programs funded by federal grants that are funneled through the State. These programs may be able to maintain some of their operations with the help of this bill.

SB 2042, as amended, is scheduled to be voted on by the Illinois House next week. Complex appropriations issues may make it necessary to further amend the measure in the House. These federal funds, which total nearly $5 billion, are separate from the money paid by Illinois taxpayers to the State. This State of Illinois “general funds” budget remains approximately $4 billion out of balance, with no solution to this section of the State’s budget woes in sight. The Senate voted unanimously (57-0-0) on Tuesday, August 4 to pass the bill.  Action by the Illinois House would be required to further move this bill forward.

State facility closings. With Illinois still lacking a full-year budget for most of the spending lines in FY16, Gov. Bruce Rauner has been compelled to take steps to cut expenses. He is legally required to do so, because most of the money the State is spending from day to day is being spent without the legal sanction of a constitutionally enacted appropriation bill. The Governor has announced a readiness to close several State facilities, including the Illinois State Museum headquartered in Springfield, and the Hardin County Work Camp in southern Illinois’ Elizabethtown. The pending State Museum closure includes four subsidiary sites in other Illinois locations. A total of 65 museum employees would be affected.

In non-binding votes on Wednesday, August 5, the General Assembly’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (CGFA) voted to support the State continuing to operate the State Museum and work camp.  The CGFA votes will not require the Governor to modify his closure action.

Nonpartisan General Assembly think tank continues to track budget shortfall. The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (CGFA), the nonpartisan agency within the Illinois State Legislature that tracks the budget status of the State, issued its monthly report for July 2015 on Monday, August 3. General funds tax receipts continued to fall short of spending in the first month of the FY16 fiscal year, largely due to the partial rollback of State income tax rates in January 2015. In July, income tax receipts fell by $204 million.  Of this shortfall, $189 million of the shortfall was in personal income tax receipts and $15 million was in corporate income tax receipts.

Although this July 2015 revenue shortfall was widely predicted and is now a matter of public record, the majority party in the Illinois General Assembly has not yet published an FY16  revenue estimate matching the CGFA numbers, even though the Constitution and  laws of Illinois require it. Of course, if the majority party adopted a balanced revenue estimate this would lead to increased pressure upon themselves to enact a constitutional balanced budget for the same fiscal year; and they have not done this, either.

United Way warning. The United Way of Illinois has described the challenges facing social service providers in the absence of a balanced State budget.  In a survey conducted July 13-17 and reported to the General Assembly this week, one-third of the more than 400 service providers reporting to the umbrella group stated they had already been forced to cut the number of clients they serve. Seen as especially at risk were programs providing medications and services to persons with mental health challenges, and programs providing technology training and access to residents of working-class neighborhoods.

The United Way of Illinois is the supervisory association and informational clearinghouse for 52 autonomous United Way chapters throughout Illinois. Best known as the recipient of voluntary gifts from hundreds of thousands of working Illinoisans, the United Way is one of America’s largest fundraising poll organizations.