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Illinois Lawmakers Have $400M in New Spending

Updated: Wednesday, March 12 2014, 10:09 AM CDT
Organizations from schools and universities to community health centers are bracing for potential cuts in state spending as lawmakers prepare to craft a budget with a significant drop in revenue.

But the same lawmakers will still be appropriating money for new spending, including almost $400 million in two funds earmarked for education and human services.

"$400 million is $400 million," said Republican Senator Chapin Rose, "You can't just not count it, so I think on all fronts, this doesn't work."

Last week, several Republican senators were angry that roughly $396 million wasn't taken into account when that chamber passed a revenue estimate.

Their spin was that Democrats wanted to make the budget outlook more bleak, to help pass an extension of the tax hike or a switch to progressive income taxes.

"You can't set aside $400 million off the top, put it in a box over here and pretend it doesn't exist, and say, 'oh, see, we're out of money,'" said Rose. "Well, there's $400 million you just took off the top, you can't do that."

It wasn't included because it's not part of the general revenue fund.

It's actually two funds with an estimated $198 million each going to  education and human services, and it passed as part of the temporary tax increase right after the election of 2010.

"Everybody was focusing on the fact that you were putting in a temporary tax increase," said UIS Political Science Professor Kent Redfield. "And they didn't notice you created a couple special funds that essentially divert money from income tax revenues."

Democratic Senate President John Cullerton's office told us the idea was to create a higher priority for two critical areas of spending that are perpetually on the chopping block in the general revenue fund.

But Redfield believes these types of funds are bad for budget

"You can move stuff around and make it look like you are doing more or less than you really are," said Redfield. "Which is why it's bad public budgeting to have these things."

The law creating the two funds states the money must be used for supplementing existing spending levels in those two areas, but not supplant it.

Republicans and Democrats seem to agree that means it must be used for new spending.

But Redfield told us lawmakers have found ways around things like that before.

"We use to say the lottery is for education," said Redfield. "And so we put the lottery in the common school fund and then we just reduce spending for education out of the general revenue fund, and so yes, you can move stuff around."Illinois Lawmakers Have $400M in New Spending

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