Want an Illinois budget? Adopt a revenue estimate!

Guest Column in the State Journal-Register: Want an Illinois budget? Adopt a revenue estimate!

K-12 schools and state universities need a state budget.

Social service providers need a state budget.

Then why don’t we have one? It is common sense that you cannot determine how much you are going to spend — and on which priorities — until you know how much revenue you actually have. Illinois families and taxpayers understand this principle; and until two years ago, the state did too.

Illinois has become a laughingstock across the country for our lack of ability to govern and that we haven’t had a full-year budget for the last two fiscal years. Illinois has not had a “balanced on paper” budget for three years. We haven’t had an honestly balanced budget since the turn of the century.

State government in Illinois is financially adrift because the General Assembly hasn’t stepped up to lead and make the tough decisions to work through a budget. By law we are required to begin by adopting a revenue estimate. I have filed legislation to do just that.

Why is it so important that we adopt a revenue estimate? There are three reasons:

1. The revenue estimate is the actual first step in our budgeting process. How do we know how much each appropriations committee has to allocate for their assigned departments and agencies if we don’t start with the Revenue Estimate?

2. The revenue estimate is required by state law and the Illinois Constitution. Just look it up. We have to do it. If we appropriate funds without a revenue estimate, we are, in effect, breaking the law.

3. The revenue estimate is an important form of taxpayer protection. If we skip the revenue estimate and just appropriate according to our wishes and the requests of the departments and agencies of state government, we will likely spend too much, which will trigger a tax increase.

This should be enough for us to do our jobs and adopt a Revenue Estimate. We don’t really have an excuse not to. We have heard the “Governor, do your job” argument from folks on the other side of the aisle all year. Yet, the Illinois State Constitution, Article VIII, Section 2, paragraph (a) which refers to the governor’s proposed budget isn’t a prerequisite for paragraph (b) which outlines the appropriations process which can only be done by the General Assembly. There is no “then” connection between the two paragraphs. The responsibility to actually draft and pass a budget, by law, rests with the General Assembly.

I have introduced three different revenue estimate resolutions: one that uses the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) estimate; one that uses the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget (GOMB) estimate; and one that averages the two.

It is important to note that the revenue estimate can be amended. If we choose to adjust fees, tax rates, loopholes or any other parameter which affects the expected funds to be available during the next fiscal year, we can file an amendment.

On Tuesday, the House returns to Springfield for the final month of session. Time is running out. The appropriations committees in Springfield have already spent dozens of hours hearing from agencies about their budget requests for the next fiscal year. If we are going to get any budgeting done in the final month of session, we need to start with how much is available to actually fund essential state services.

You cannot blame the governor on this issue. You can only blame the General Assembly. The resolutions have been filed. If you want the budget process to move forward, contact your state representative and senator and tell them to adopt a revenue estimate without delay.

Keith Wheeler is a Republican from Oswego who represents the 50th District in the Illinois House.