The reporter in Springfield with the best handle on the state budget was Chicago Sun-Times Springfield correspondent Charles Wheeler III.
He now heads the journalism school at the University of Illinois in Springfield and wrote the following for NPR Illinois:
By mutual agreement, Rauner and the Democratic-controlled General Assembly have assured citizens the budget for the current fiscal year is balanced, that general funds spending won’t exceed expected resources.
Technically, they are correct; on paper, the FY 2019 plan would result in a budgetary surplus of $14 million, according to the state’s official statement for a $966 million bond sale earlier this month. The calculation — equivalent to roughly 36 cents on a $1,000 tab — is what in the old days would be called a rounding error. Even then, the estimate is built on some very shaky ground, for example, counting on almost $400 million in savings from a pension buyout plan yet to be implemented and, for the third straight year, $270 million from selling the Thompson Center in Chicago’s Loop. And the bottom line is bolstered by a one-time infusion of $800 million into the state’s main checkbook account borrowed from other, earmarked funds.
Giving everyone the benefit of the doubt, that $14 million “cushion” will be a drop in the bucket next spring, when the governor and lawmakers have to fashion a spending plan for FY20. For starters, they won’t be able to sell the Thompson Center again, one would assume, nor raid other accounts for another $800 million. Costs will go up, too, for mandated payments into the retirement funds and to cover past borrowing, as well as $350 million more for public schools, as required by the 2017 education reform law. Not to mention the backlog of overdue bills, slightly more than $8 billion at the start of this week.
Read the whole article here.