Alton, IL

Revenue Estimate A Must

Story by WBGZ Radio

As part of the budgeting process, Illinois’ state constitution requires a revenue estimate. Lawmakers in both chambers say it’s a must, but the House, led by Speaker Michael Madigan, hasn’t passed one in at least three years.


“Appropriations for a fiscal year shall not exceed funds estimated by the General Assembly to be available during that year.” That’s what the constitution says.


State Rep. Keith Wheeler, R-Oswego, who’s been in office since 2015, says he hasn’t seen the House follow through.


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“If we actually were to follow the budget process that’s outlined; start with a revenue estimate, take all of your above-the-line expenses out of the equation, divide them up among the different appropriations committees and then have a discussion within those committees,” Wheeler said. “That hasn’t happened since I’ve been here.”


“I think that reflects very much in how we actually run this entire government as a state,” Wheeler said. “We take things that are convenient and do those, but then we skip the things that make it harder.”


Despite the House not passing a revenue estimate, the Senate did last year. Lawmakers also overrode the governor’s veto of a $36 billion budget that spends the entire $5 billion tax increase to the point where the budget is $1.7 billion out of balance. The governor’s budget director said last week the administration was able to get that deficit down to $600 million through efficiencies and other means.


State Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, said both chambers and both sides need to come together for the revenue estimate for the coming fiscal year that begins July 1.


“We have in place a process where you need to know what your revenues are so you don't’ spend more than what your revenues are,” Steans said. “That’s what we have to spend. That’s it. That’s what our budget needs to reflect or else we have to increase revenues or decrease revenues if we want.”


House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, released a letter last week sent to Madigan, D-Chicago, pointing out the importance of the revenue estimate.


“At the most basic level, without a revenue estimate, our appropriations committees don’t know how much they have to allocate for their assigned departments and agencies,” Durkin said. “But even more importantly, it is required by state law.”


“The House and Senate by joint resolution shall adopt or modify such estimates as may be appropriate. The joint resolution shall constitute the General Assembly’s estimate,” the Illinois Compiled Statutes says in section 155/4(a).


Durkin said the revenue estimate is about taxpayer protection.


“By skipping the revenue estimate, as has become custom in the General Assembly, and just appropriate according to our wishes, we will likely continue to spend more than we have available, which will trigger even more tax increases,” Durkin wrote. “We must do better.”


Madigan’s spokesman Steve Brown said in an email he’s hopeful to pass one this year, “if there is a bipartisan agreement.”


Brown did not clarify why a bipartisan agreement would be necessary, and Madigan's caucus has a near-supermajority that wouldn't require any Republican votes to pass one.


Gov. Bruce Rauner delivers his budget address on Wednesday. Rauner said during his State of the State address less than two weeks ago that he planned to introduce a balanced budget, something Democrats in the General Assembly and some Republicans say he's never done before.


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