Comptroller sets spending priorities as budget impasse lingers
Illinois Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger didn’t mince words recently during an update on state finances when she said outstanding bills could total $10 billion by the end of the fiscal year.
“No one can deny that we have serious financial problems in our state," Munger said during a press conference in Chicago. "It is long past time that we all accept responsibility for the decisions of the past, and work hard and diligently on the road to recovery."
The current backlog in state bills is roughly $7.8 billion, but the stopgap budget passed June 30 authorized $2.5 billion more in spending than the state will bring in over the next six months, Munger said.
“While the stopgap is a positive step forward, it is a very short-term step," Munger said. "It does not address our larger financial issues and our limited available cash, nor does it provide a predictable funding stream that would allow organizations throughout our state that rely on state funding to plan and budget for the coming year."
In fact, by the end of 2016, Illinois will be $3 billion more in the hole than it was at the end of 2015 if a comprehensive, balanced budget does not get put in place, Munger said.
Nevertheless, the stopgap budget will get the state through the next six months, Munger said. Munger also outlined her priorities going forward:
“First and foremost, I will always prioritize our debt-service payments and ensure that we never default on Illinois’ bonds," she said. “Elementary and secondary education will receive their expected general state-aid payments to ensure that schools open on time and that classes can continue throughout the school year."
She also said her office will continue to abide by ongoing court orders and consent decrees, and process payments for human services, payroll and Medicaid per usual.
As a general rule, Munger said payments will be made on a first-in, first-out basis, subject to growing payment delays.
“However, in that line, priority will be given to those organizations that received no payments during the entire year," Munger said. "This includes nonprofits that were not covered under last year’s court orders and consent decrees, but continued to deliver services in the absence of a budget."
These programs include those for the autistic, people with disabilities, the homeless, drug and alcohol addiction programs, and rape-crisis centers, among others.
Munger also said businesses that provided goods and services to the state in good faith for over a year while waiting for a budget – which include state prison vendors, those ensuring that veterans services continued, IT companies, landlords for state buildings and facilities, and local utility providers – will receive payments.
“Further, we will work closely with our colleges and universities and MAP Grant students to provide what is needed to sustain them,” Munger said.
As for lawmakers and constitutional officers, they’ll have to wait in line to receive their paychecks just like everybody else.
“How can I in good conscience tell our hospitals, our schools, our small businesses, or nonprofits and others to get in line and wait, and then we, the elected leaders of the state, walk to the front of the line?" Munger said. "We are all in this together, and we should all be waiting in line together."
Rather than argue over when their paychecks are actually coming, elected leaders instead should be more concerned about passing a balanced budget, Munger said.
“Instead of exchanging useless press releases that point blame, we should be working together on long-term solutions that will reduce our debt and bring financial strength back to our state,” Munger said.