The budget impasse in Springfield continues, without an end in sight. There’s no question the lack of a budget is a major embarrassment to the state. Worse, it’s causing real harm to real people. Because of consent decrees and court orders, state employees continue collecting paychecks and many providers of health care to the poor will ultimately be reimbursed for their services. But the impasse means major disruptions. No funding has been provided for low-income college students for the current school year. Public colleges and universities have seen their state aid slashed by two-thirds. Many social service agencies, especially small ones, have shut their doors—and many more are on the brink of bankruptcy.
The impasse is, at least in part, the result of Governor Bruce Rauner’s budget preconditions. Before we adopt a budget, he demands changes to the workers’ compensation system, to public employee collective bargaining rules, limits on local government property taxes and legislative term limits. He argues that these changes will revitalize the Illinois economy and encourage new business investment in the state.
The General Assembly’s fiscal forecasting agency, the bipartisan Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, asked Moody’s Analytics to assess the state of the state’s economy. The report highlights our biggest hurdle to economic vitality: the lack of a state budget. Illinois sports many advantages—we have a highly skilled workforce, major transportation hubs, and Chicago is an attractive location for corporate headquarters.
But the lack of fiscal stability, the uncertainty about a budget is a drag our otherwise strong economic expectations. Companies don’t want to move to a state that looks as if it’s about to implode. Companies need to know what their tax and other liabilities will be before they take the plunge.
The Moody’s report highlights the importance of providing businesses with certainty about tax burdens, and certainty about the health of the state’s treasury. The report suggests that broad-based income tax reforms, coupled with a budget, could provide the security businesses prize.
When Moody’s presented the report before the Illinois House Revenue and Finance Committee, members asked questions about the changes Governor Rauner demands as preconditions for a state budget. The Moody’s representative demurred. She told us there’s no evidence that the items on the Governor’s so-called Turnaround Agenda would boost our economy. Our business costs and utility bills are in fact lower than they are in many of our neighboring states.
The Moody’s report concludes that our biggest obstacle to economic improvement is lack of security, lack of stability, lack of a state budget.
It’s past time to set the Turnaround Agenda aside. It’s past time to concentrate on passing a budget—a budget that will serve the needs of all of our fragile and vulnerable populations, continue our commitments to higher education and a skilled workforce, and provide security to the economic engines that will help lift us out of our doldrums.
State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-25)