Illinois spending bill still higher than average

The $36 billion spending package voted on Thursday by Illinois legislators is less than what the state is estimated to have spent in the last fiscal year when there was no budget, but more than the average over the last decade.

Spending in the fiscal year that ended June 30 was expected to top $38.1 billion, according to estimates from the governor's office in a March 29 Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability report.

During the last decade, spending from the state's "general funds" averaged $34.7 billion.

That's according to an analysis of audited state spending figures for fiscal years 2008 through 2016 found on Illinois Comptroller Suzana Mendoza's website, and March 2017 spending estimates from the Governor's Office for Management and Budget for the most recently completed fiscal year. Unlike some fees and taxes that pay for road improvements or debt reduction, revenue in the state's general fund is not designated for specific spending.

The just-completed fiscal year and 2014, when the state spent nearly $37 billion, are the only years in the past decade when spending topped $36 billion.

Proponents of the new budget touted the spending cuts from the previous year, but critics called the reductions "gimmicks."

"Part of the decrease is $800 million in delayed pension payments, which is the equivalent of you or me not paying the minimum on our credit cards," said Sheila Weinberg, CEO and founder of Truth in Accounting, a bipartisan government finance policy think tank. "They need to bring us fact-based budgeting, not accounting gimmicks that got us where we are today."

Illinois has been operating without a budget for the past two years, since Gov. Bruce Rauner took office and sought to tie budget approval to changes in workers' compensation, legislative leader term limits, a property tax freeze and other changes.

In fiscal year 2016, the state spent $31.6 billion, the lowest amount during the past decade, according to the analysis.

Along with approving the budget, the legislature raised the individual state income tax from 3.75 percent to 4.95 percent - which would raise about $5 billion in additional revenue. Rauner vetoed the measure earlier this week. However, the veto was overridden by the legislature, which included some House Republicans crossing party lines.

Illinois' individual income tax rate was 5 percent from 2011 to 2015, when lawmakers allowed it to roll back.

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