State’s budget is ‘a game of chicken’

Lisa Depies

The start of the new fiscal year, July 1, arrived in Illinois without the state having a new budget in place to cover spending for the next year.

The $59 billion-plus budget sent to Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich includes an estimated $2.1 billion shortfall.

Blagojevich set a July 9 budget for lawmakers to send him a more balanced budget, but House Speaker Michael Madigan has said it’s up to the governor to make cuts in the budget.

It’s a stalemate that soon will affect citizens across the state. If a budget isn’t in place by July 10, approximately 4,900 state employees won’t receive a paycheck.

The lack of an operating budget also will prevent funds from being distributed to hospitals, nursing homes and school districts.

“Right now, there’s a game of chicken being played to see who blinks first,” said first-year State Sen. Tim Bivins (R-45), whose district includes Geneseo.

“(Madigan) has said if the House is called back, they’ll start impeachment processes (against the governor),” said Bivins. In response, Blagojevich has threatened deep cuts in funding to, among others, services for the disabled, the mentally ill, seniors and veterans.

“It’s part of the game,” said Bivins of the governor’s budget threats. “He’s going for where it will hurt the most and for the groups that will scream loudly.”

Disagreements between Blagojevich and Madigan, both Democrats from Chicago, occur frequently at the state level.

“It’s playground politics,” said Bivins. “Too much time is spent reliving old history. It’s time to just get over it and make things work.”

The constant bickering between members of the majority party has hurt the state and its reputation.

“The opinion from outside the state is that Illinois has passed even Louisiana in terms of corruption,” said Bivins, who called Illinois government “non functioning.”

“You need to have leadership, and right now we’re lacking that. You also need leadership from someone who understands the entire state, not just Chicago,” he said.

As for the state’s financial quagmire, Bivins said the state’s budget process is “broken and in need of fixing.”

“We need sunshine on our budget,” said Bivins, calling for more open discussion and debate on the annual budget.

“It doesn’t matter which party is in charge, you’re missing out on input when you close the process,”?he said.

Bivins said he received the current budget “two hours before I was suppose to vote on it.”

“The budget process needs to be transparent, and it needs to have everyone involved,” he said.

The budget also needs to be balanced, said Bivins. “We need to stop spending. The state doesn’t have a money problem, it has a spending problem. We can’t keep adding new programs and then not paying for the old programs,”?he said, mentioning the state’s current $2 billion in unpaid Medicaid benefits.

“If we don’t meet our current obligations, then we become a deadbeat state,” he said. “We have to be fiscally responsible.”

In the past, the state has met certain financial obligations from borrowing from other accounts, but, cautioned Bivins, “We can’t borrow our way out of debt.”

In addition to cutting programs, other budget solutions proposed by the governor include expanding gambling and leasing the state lottery.

Bivins said he’s opposed to expanding gambling because the majority of the voters in the 45th district oppose the idea. A former law enforcement official, Bivins said when he first started his career, “gambling was considered vice ... now it’s considered ‘gaming.’”

He also doesn’t think expanding gambling will raise as much revenue as proposed.

“Gambling revenue is down 14 percent, and we’ve seen no real increase in the number of people gambling,”?he said.

Bivins is, however, in favor of leasing the state lottery. “The private sector can usually run things more efficiently than government can,”?he said.

Bivins said it’s also not fair to Illinois families for “scare tactics” to be used, in which  state programs or jobs are marked for elimination in an attempt to force certain budgetary agreements.

“You put a lot of stress on Illinois families and individuals that way,” said Bivins. As a result, there’s a growing “lack of trust” Illinois residents have of their government.

“People react when something personally affects them,” said Bivins. “They need to be involved in the process, if we get 70 or 75 percent voter turn out, things can turn around over night. It’s going to take the citizens of not only this district, but the state, to change things.”