In Historic Shift, Illinois House Committees Take Illinois Budget Reins, Budget Cuts Responsiblity

(Springfield, IL) — There are going to be some tough decisions made in Springfield.  And not everyone is going to be happy with the outcomes.

The Illinois House’s appropriations committees will be outlining in the coming weeks specific spending amounts for next fiscal year’s budget, a power they haven’t exercised in many years, said State Rep. William Davis, D-East Hazel Crest, who heads the committee that will divvy up funds for elementary and high school education.

In recent years, the General Assembly has typically deferred a lump sum to the governor, allowing him to take control over the specific details in the budget.

Davis said he’s “excited” about the House’s decision to take a more hands-on approach.

“Here’s an opportunity to really get into what these programs do. How (are) they helping people? Are they helping people? Is the amount of money they receive worthy of that?” Davis said.

House committees have held hearings since January to learn more about specific programs and agencies vying for spots in the budget.

For elementary and high school education, informal talks began last week to decide on the exact numbers, but it’s still too soon to tell, Davis said.

“As bills start to float out of committee, you’ll be able to see right away who exactly is on the chopping block, who’s receiving level funding or for that matter who may even be reduced, or in some cases may lose their funding,” Davis said.

The committee will decide on $7 billion, or about 28 percent of the general revenue fund, a number based on budgets from previous fiscal years.

State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, who chairs the House Appropriations-Human Services Committee, is dealing with a $12-billion budget, or 50 percent of the general revenue fund. She said the task of carving up that amount “daunting,” but remains optimistic about the outcome.

“It’s not fun to have to make the tough choices, but it’s what these very challenging times are calling for right now,” Feigenholtz said. “Watching government become more efficient and us more accountable with the taxpayers dollars is a clear message we got in the last 12 months.”

The shift in power comes at a time after the state has passed a historic 67-percent personal income tax increase to try to cover a $9 billion operating deficit, a major reason for the House’s proactive methods, state Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, said.

“We still don’t have enough money, and so we’ve got to tighten our belts,” Bradley said. “When you go to the taxpayers and say, ‘we need additional money,’ you better make sure your spending the money you have as rationally and reasonably as possible.”

House budget expert state Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, said he hasn’t seen this kind of approach to the budget since he first arrived in Springfield 20 years ago.

“Instead of the four leaders going into the backroom and deciding what the budget is going to be … each of the five committees have divided the money,” Mautino said.

The House already has passed the “easy part” of the budget, and that bipartisan support will be necessary to finish it up, Mautino said.

“Committees are going to go and buy the services they can afford, and the ones they can’t afford, they will cut and leave in committee,” Mautino said.

Feigenholtz said it’s more about what the committee chooses to keep rather than what it chooses to cut.

“(Balancing the budget is) not something we’re going to completely be able to accomplish in one budget cycle,” Feigenholtz said. “I’m actually looking forward to going back to the drawing board on a lot of programs and making government more efficient.”

Melissa Leu, Illinois Statehouse News

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