The Times

On A Tight Leash -- Legislators discuss state's budget woes

Friday, September 24, 2010

The state's budget crisis isn't likely to improve in the near future, regardless of who wins the gubernatorial race in November, according to local legislators.

State Sen. Gary Dahl, R-Granville; state Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley; and Samantha Warren, a representative for U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson, D-Crete, spoke during the Streator Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry's eggs and issues breakfast Thursday at Evergreen Place in Streator.

"The problems keep getting worse and the solutions keep getting farther and farther away, regardless of the election," Dahl told the crowd.

Dahl said making the state business-friendly is the first place to start, citing 700,000 jobs lost in the last few years.

"This year has been as difficult or more difficult than any other year," Mautino told the group. "The state of Illinois is one of 41 states in a deficit."

Mautino spoke of the budget using the analogy of $25, and indicated money earmarked for schools, Medicaid and employee contracts takes up $16 of the $25. These are operating costs that cannot be reduced. The pension plan uses up another $4, for a total of $20. Short-term budgeting requires $1.50 and $3.50 remains with the state requesting an additional $10 needed for expenses. Mautino said, adding to the crisis is that halfway through the year the $25 budgeted dropped to $24.

Mautino said Illinois entered last year with declining revenues of $2.4 billion. He said the federal economic stimulus package assisted with helping schools. He indicated legislation has extended the stimulus package and $400 billion would be earmarked for direct aid to schools.

The new governor will be sworn in Wednesday, Jan. 12, and Mautino said a week later he will have to decide how to pay a $1.96 billion bond payment, which Mautino said could come from school funds and human services — two funds already hit hard.

"My hope going forward is that we recognize the things that need to be done," Mautino said. "We'll weather the storm coming out."

Warren cited some of the legislative acts Halvorson has contributed to, including the Small Business Lending Fund Act, which creates a $30 billion small business lending fund to encourage community banks to loan to small businesses and The Savings Act, which provides understanding to surviving family members of troops of what benefits they are entitled to, as well as provides transparency for what insurance companies are doing with remaining assets.