Last Wednesday, this sign graced a number of desks on the Democrat side of the aisle and greeted Governor Rauner as he entered the Speaker’s well of the Illinois House to give his annual budget address. During the speech there were fits of hooting and laughter from the same quarter, and not for the first time I came face to face with the reality of the unseriousness of this place.
The press made a lot of noise accusing the Governor of once again failing to propose a balanced budget as required by the Illinois Constitution. But there’s one thing they never mention: the Constitution says that the General Assembly is supposed to provide the estimate of revenues for the fiscal year from which the Governor proposes his budget. Article VIII, Section 2 of the Illinois Constitution provides:
(a) The Governor shall prepare and submit to the General Assembly, at a time prescribed by law, a State budget for the ensuing fiscal year. The budget shall set forth the estimated balance of funds available for appropriation at the beginning of the fiscal year…
(b) The General Assembly by law shall make appropriations for all expenditures of public funds by the State. Appropriations for a fiscal year shall not exceed funds estimated by the General Assembly to be available during that year.
This inartfully drafted provision basically says 3 things have to happen:
- The General Assembly is responsible for estimating revenues for the year;
- The Governor must submit a budget based upon that estimate of revenue;
- The General Assembly shall appropriate those funds.
The process is supposed to start with the General Assembly’s estimate of revenues. Since Bruce Rauner became governor, there has not been a single instance of an estimate of revenue being prepared before the budget address. While the governor’s Office of Management and Budget has made the estimates for the past 3 years, it doesn’t alter the fact that it’s doing what the Constitution says is the General Assembly’s job. And why is that important? It’s important because it gives the General Assembly the colorable pretext of unaccountability, making people think that we in the legislature are mere rubber stamps to what the Governor says.
The time for proposing the budget is prescribed by law:
The Governor shall, as soon as possible and not later than the… third Wednesday in February of each year… except as otherwise provided in this Section, submit a State budget…
Further down the page it says:
By March 15 of each year, the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability shall prepare revenue and fund transfer estimates in accordance with the requirements of this Section and report those estimates to the General Assembly and the Governor.
So the Governor is supposed to submit a budget using numbers he isn’t scheduled to receive until a month later. It’s not that it makes a damned bit of difference to the fact that we’re in the shape we’re in, but it just underscores the ass-backwards way everything down here seems to run. The next time somebody points the finger of blame at the failure to provide a balanced budget, save a more than a little of the blame for the General Assembly. The process starts with us.