Voices for Illinois Children express concerns

Staff Writer
Woodford Times

Voices for Illinois Children is expressing concerns about the state's fiscal condition hours in adavnce of the governor's State of the State address.

"The state continues to face serious fiscal challenges.  Recent three-year projections from the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget indicate that programs and services vital to struggling kids and families are on the chopping block once again. The GOMB report provides a preview of spending priorities for the Governor’s FY 2013 budget, which will be released on Feb. 22.  Disproportionately affecting human services, reduced funding levels have significant implications for the critical programs serving children, families, and communities," the group saidin a press release.

The Budget and Tax Policy Initiative's new issue brief analyzes the GOMB budget projections and highlights the following main points:

• Modest revenue growth.  GOMB’s projections show moderate growth in General Funds revenue from state sources (about $600 million) for the upcoming fiscal year.  Without the income tax increase enacted last year, state revenues would be about $7 billion lower.

• Growing pension costs.  The GOMB report reflects the ongoing financial problems of the state retirement systems, which are primarily the result of decades of underfunding.  As the state tries to stick to a long-term plan for reducing unfunded pension liabilities, other parts of the budget are being squeezed out.  Mandated pension contributions are expected to jump by more than $1 billion in FY13 ? about twice as much as projected revenue growth.

• Flat funding for education.  Combined appropriations for elementary-secondary and higher education would remain at FY12 levels.  The State Board of Education has requested a $265 million increase for FY13.  In order to accommodate this increase, the Governor’s budget would have to make corresponding cuts in higher education.

Policy dilemmas for healthcare.  The budget plan assumes no growth in appropriations for Medicaid and related programs in FY13 and subsequent years.  As the report itself notes, however, there is already a big gap between current funding levels and actual program costs.  In the absence of significant policy changes, flat appropriations in FY13 will mean adding another $1.5 billion to the state’s backlog of unpaid bills.

• More cuts for human services.  With increased pension contributions and level funding for education and healthcare, GOMB anticipates $574 million in cuts for other parts of the General Funds budget.  Human service agencies will absorb 60 percent of these budget cuts ? $350 million.  Programs and services not protected by federal funding or federal mandates will be in the greatest jeopardy.

"Although new revenue has substantially improved the state’s fiscal condition, enormous challenges remain.  The resources available to human services are still inadequate, and community-based providers continue to struggle in meeting the needs of vulnerable children and families.  The human services infrastructure is being undermined by both budget cuts and long delays in payments from the state.  In the coming fiscal year, more spending cuts are inevitable, but they should be strategically targeted and fairly distributed, the press release said.