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Report: Illinois Budget on Autopilot

As Gov. Bruce Rauner is set to give his second budget address, a watchdog says the state budget is on autopilot. (iStockphoto)
As Gov. Bruce Rauner is set to give his second budget address, a watchdog says the state budget is on autopilot. (iStockphoto)
February 17, 2016

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - As the budget battle in Illinois continues, a government watchdog group says the state's finances have been running on "autopilot."

Gov. Bruce Rauner is to give his second budget address today to lay out priorities for next year - but the state has been operating for about eight months without a budget for the current fiscal year.

Bobby Otter, budget director for the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, helped author a new report that shows that if lawmakers continue to do nothing, more than $3 billion could be slashed from core services, including higher education.

"Not one elected official, be it in the General Assembly or the governor, has actually had to vote on that or sign that into law," he said. "They're kind of abdicating and punting their responsibilities here."

The report, titled "Illinois on Autopilot," also showed that even without an official budget on the books, state spending levels still are at about 90 percent. That's mostly to pay for health care and other court-ordered services.

While that might have some people thinking the state has been spending less overall, Otter said, it's not actually the case. Illinois is on track to spend much more than it takes in, to the tune of about $2 billion. Otter is encouraging the governor and lawmakers to either raise taxes or find strategic cuts and then actually vote on them.

"One of the main jobs of our elected officials is to make those hard decisions, if we need more revenue, than to raise more revenue," he said. "Or, if we don't have enough revenue, then what services will have to be scaled back or cut."

The center, along with trade groups such as the Illinois Manufacturers' Association, has suggested that Illinois could help close its budget gap by taxing service industries.

The CTBA report is online at ctbaonline.org.

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - IL