PI Original Angela Caputo Thursday November 5th, 2009, 11:11am

Number Of The Day: $12.8 Billion

If there's one thing observers of Illinois politics can agree on, it's that next year's state budget deficit is going to be extraordinary. Not only are billions in federal stimulus money scheduled to dry up, but state officials will soon have to pay out $3.5 billion in ...

If there's one thing observers of Illinois politics can agree on, it's that next year's state budget deficit is going to be extraordinary. Not only are billions in federal stimulus money scheduled to dry up, but state officials will soon have to pay out $3.5 billion in pension notes and cover $3.9 billion in unpaid obligations from the current fiscal year. Compounding the problem are tanking revenues and the need to pay back $205 million in short-term loans used to cover college aid.  Now the projected 2011 shortfall has hit a whopping $12.8 billion, according to the Voices for Illinois Children's (VFIC) latest policy memo.

VFIC puts the staggering deficit in perspective:

How much is $12.8 billion? This amount is equivalent to total state General Funds spending for the State Board of Education and the departments of Human Services, Children and Family Services, and Public Health. The entire General Funds budget — aside from mandatory spending for pension costs, debt service, and other statutory transfers — is about $26 billion. Closing a $12.8 billion gap without new revenue would require devastating spending cuts, on top of those enacted this year. If such reductions were applied across the board, they would slash 50 percent of funding from every state program; if not distributed equally, many specific cuts would run far deeper.

Earlier this week, we highlighted a series of backdoor cuts to core human services that are already occurring as a result of the General Assembly's failure to pass a responsible budget this year. And in a letter today to the Sun-Times, Illinois Action for Children's Maria Whelan reiterates the need for added revenue to avoid more devastating cuts to the state's safety net:

To ensure that Illinois' working families and their children are not left behind in the wake of this terrible economic recession, our elected officials need to stand up on their behalf and address our state budget crisis by passing a tax increase that will ensure that these vital safety nets are in place for all children.

For the average Illinoisan, the cost of this increased state revenue would be comparable to the cost of a few cups of gourmet coffee, for example, each week. Which is more important -- a few cups of fancy coffee or the lives of children and families in Illinois?

Her letter is titled: "Tax hike would hurt us a little, and help Illinois children a lot."

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