While Gov. J.B. Pritzker blames the previous governor’s administration for an expected $3.2 billion deficit in the coming fiscal year, a public finance watchdog said the state’s financial problems are larger than any single administration.
Pritzker’s administration put out a report Friday titled “Digging Out: The Rauner Wreckage Report.” Deputy Governor Dan Hynes wrote the report, which said the past four years under Rauner showed that “failure and ideological warfare in Illinois state government create a mess that will take years to put behind us.”
Wirepoints President Ted Dabrowski said that left out some simple facts.
“What’s clear is that the wreckage happened long before Rauner and has been on a downtrend for decades, and while things certainly got worse under Rauner, there’s no doubt this place was a wreck before that,” Dabrowski said.
Rauner’s early attempts to reduce pension costs, curtail state spending, cut regulations and his refusal to sign unbalanced budgets led to a 30-month budget impasse with only stopgap funding measures. During that time, lawmakers failed to address court-ordered spending, which continued to drive the cost of services leading to a $16 billion backlog of unpaid bills and the interest that came with it.
Dabrowski said policymakers have for years neglected the state’s structural deficiencies.
He said Illinois’ unfunded pension liability before Rauner’s tenure was well over $100 billion, declining population was already an issue, and there weren’t balanced budgets for 15 years beforehand.
Before Rauner left office, he said the state needed pro-business policies to grow the economy faster than government spending. Dabrowski agreed.
“What we need to do is bring down the cost of government so we can bring down property taxes and overall taxes, that’s the way to solve the problem,” Dabrowski said.
Pritzker is set to give his budget address later this month. It’s unclear how he’ll address the estimated $3.2 billion deficit, but he’s said he’ll deliver a balanced budget.
Pritzker’s report said “the new administration will use its first budget to light a multi-year path forward to fiscal stability and a new prosperity for Illinois.”
Dabrowski said that needs to include bringing down the cost of government, taxation, regulations and lowering the cost of promised pension benefits by changing the state’s constitution to allow for reductions.
The budget address is set for Feb. 20.