Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Senate moves to postpone budget address

By Jamey Dunn

A proposal to give Gov. Pat Quinn some extra time to work on his budget address has become the first partisan budget showdown of the session. The Senate approved HB 2240 this afternoon.

If approved by the House, the legislation would move the budget address from February 17, which is currently required by law, to March 24. The bill would require Quinn to make some budget information available to the legislature and the public via a website by February 24. That information includes:

  • Total revenue for fiscal year 2010, including estimates for the remaining months.
  • Total spending for fiscal year 2010, including estimates for the remaining months.
  • Estimated revenue for fiscal year 2011.
  • The state’s obligations, such as interest on debts and pension payments, for fiscal year 2011.

Legislators, and anyone else in the state, could then use the website to make suggestions regarding the budget until March 10. Senate Democrats said that they approached the governor’s office to request more transparency and input in the process. They tout the bill as an unprecedented cooperative approach to budgeting.

“We’re going to have, for the first time, the two major points. We’re going to have the information about how much money we’ve brought into this state so far this year and where we spent it. That’s never been officially reported,” said Senate President John Cullerton, the sponsor of the bill. “Secondly, we are going to have the official starting point for next year. We’re going to know how much money the governor says we have available to us and how much our obligations are for next year before he comes up with his budget.”

However, Republicans said the transparency measures were only included in the bill as an excuse to buy Quinn more time.

“There’s a lot of good ideas in here, but when you boil it all down … this really is nothing more than window dressing to justify putting off the budget address. The fact of the matter is, there’s really nothing new that couldn’t have come out this week or last week,” Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno said. She added that moving the address back would unnecessarily "compress" budget negotiations into a shorter time period.

Cullerton responded by saying the budget will be completed on time, and the process will actually begin once Quinn starts receiving input on the website.

“I think this is going to be a dramatic change. We still have to pass a budget by the same day. …We’re going to meet that deadline. We’re actually going to try to get out of Springfield three weeks earlier than we have in the past. And we’ll still have enough time to have [appropriations] hearings,” he said.

Republicans said that because the state is in a fiscal crisis, Quinn should be prepared to give his address on time. “This is now anarchy. This is fiscal anarchy,” said Aurora Republican Sen. Chris Lauzen. “If the governor does not know what he is going to say, on schedule, then we are truly lost.”


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