by Jeff Fleischer(Medill News Service, October 9, 2002)
With the state of Illinois experiencing a budget shortfall, Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Ryan unveiled a proposed amendment to the state constitution Wednesday that, he believes, will prevent similar deficits in the future by capping state spending growth.
“We have to impose budget discipline,” said Ryan, the Illinois attorney general. “We have to restore fiscal integrity to Springfield. We have to have more managed growth.”
Ryan said this amendment would limit spending increases to the rate of inflation plus the state’s population growth. Adding those two percentage figures would determine the spending cap.
“Next year, for example … the anticipated growth and population will be about 3 percent,” Ryan said. “That means that spending for the next year can’t exceed, if this proposal were in place, 3 percent of the anticipated general revenue growth in the budget.”
Gov. George Ryan, whose spot Jim Ryan is running for, announced last week that Illinois is $80 million behind budget estimates for the first fiscal quarter of 2003, which ended Sep. 30. He also said the state has a projected $2 billion shortfall for the 2004 fiscal year. Because the state constitution requires a balanced budget, either tax hikes or spending cuts would be needed to make up for that shortfall.
“There’s going to be some significant spending pressures for the 2004 fiscal-year budget,” George Ryan said last week. “The next governor’s going to have a lot of work to do.”
Pat Quinn, running mate to Rod Blagojevich on the Democratic gubernatorial ticket, agreed that spending needs to be cut, but criticized the amendment proposal.
“You don’t need a constitutional amendment to tell you to cut spending these days,” Quinn said. “The state government has squandered the surplus under the Republican governor we have now. To say it can’t be done without a constitutional amendment is abdicating leadership.”
Jim Ryan conceded that his proposal would not provide a short-term elixir to the 2004 estimates.
“I would be the first to acknowledge that this plan won’t solve the problem that we have today in Springfield,” Ryan said. “In that sense it’s too late, because we didn’t have this plan. But this plan will prevent these problems from happening in the future.”
Ryan said he based his plan on an amendment to Colorado’s constitution, which passed in 1993.
“Both Colorado and Illinois rode the technology-driven economic boom of the ’90s, but Illinois spent the fruits of that boom and Colorado did not,” Ryan said. They are not now facing the fiscal nightmare that we are witnessing in Springfield.”
Ryan estimated that the state would have accumulated a savings of $3 billion over the past four years had this amendment been in place. He said the budget state budget surplus three years ago stood at $1.5 billion, while no surplus existed last year.
“We can’t continue to spend every cent in the good times, because then there is no money to fall back on in the bad times,” Ryan said.
The attorney general said he hopes to hit a point where the state builds its end-of-year balance and rainy-day fund to “where we need to be.” He said he would consider a tax rebate or cut if state finances allow one if the future.
“It is in our DNA in politics, we want to spend more money. Most of us, we do want to help people. I do too,” Ryan said. “But my point is, you can’t, without discipline, be a compassionate, effective governor.”
Quinn blamed the lack of fiscal discipline on the current administration, and said Blagojevich would not follow its pattern.
“There is no replacement for strong gubernatorial leadership and that’s what we’re committed to,” Quinn said. “Rod Blagojevich has a plan to balance the budget and he’ll begin working on it day one.”