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Illinois budgets $200 million for Obama-related projects, $0 for Veteran Grant Program

Illinois Watchdog.Org

Saturday, June 30, 2018  |  Article  |  By Greg Bishop

Budget--State (8) , Governor (44) McSweeney, David--State House, 52
The state budget Illinois is set to enact Sunday is the largest spending plan in state history, but it has plenty of critics who have questioned the state's priorities. 

The $38.5 billion spending plan passed with bipartisan support before the May 31 deadline. The budget that comes in at more more than 1,200 pages passed only hours after it was fully unveiled for lawmakers and taxpayers alike. Gov. Bruce Rauner swiftly signed it into law. It takes effect July 1. It’s the first approved budget signed by Rauner in his three-and-a-half years in office.

The plan uses all of the $5 billion income tax increase from 2017. The tax hike was approved by lawmakers over the governor’s veto. It increases funding for all levels of education by hundreds of millions of dollars. However, the Illinois Student Assistance Commission said the budget does not not include funding for the Illinois Veteran Grant Program “to provide for compensating institutions for waiving the tuition and fees for qualified applicants.”

“Although, ISAC will not be able to reimburse institutions for 2018-19 IVG awards, reporting of enrollment hours must still take place so that benefit usage (i.e., eligibility units) can be accurately assessed to students’ accounts,” ISAC said in an online post.

The state’s spending plan does set aside $53 million for improvements to the Quincy Veterans Home, but that’s only a quarter of what the Rauner administration estimated for a fix that includes purchasing and renovating a nearby facility while a new one is built.

Other spending in the budget includes more than $200 million for projects related to the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago.

State Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, was one of only a few who voted against the budget.

“I would put money for the veterans way before I’d put money for the Obama Center, let’s put it that way,” McSweeney said. “Even though that was in the capital component of the budget.”

McSweeney said he’s not against the Obama Center. However, he said the center should be funded by private donations rather than taxpayers.

Regardless, McSweeney said the budget isn’t balanced.

Major credit ratings agencies have also reviewed the state’s budget. S&P criticized the spending plan for assuming savings that can’t be guaranteed such as pension buyout plans that need retirees to volunteer to participate. Fitch said the budget is at risk because of court-ordered state employee raises to the tune of $400 million that aren’t budgeted. Both also said the budget isn’t structurally balanced because of the state’s massive unfunded pension liability and backlogged bills.

Gov. Bruce Rauner said this week the budget is a compromise and a step in the right direction, but said it could have gone further.

“While this budget can be and will be balanced with some hard work, it does not allocate significant money to pay down debt and that’s a failing,” Rauner said. “I was very disappointed and frustrated with that.”

Illinois has $130 billion unfunded pension liability and as of Thursday more than $6.4 billion in backlogged bills.