Q: What would be the advantage of waiting?
A: Lawmakers wouldn’t have to decide on tax hikes until after the November filing deadline for legislative races, shielding them from potential challenges in the primary election. Also, passing a budget in January would require only a simple majority, instead of the three-fifths majority it now needs.
Q: Is there a disadvantage?
A: It would force state agencies to decide whether to keep spending as if they’ve got a full year’s budget or act as if they’ll only get six months’ worth of funding and begin slashing assistance programs and services.
Q: Is there a deadline to reach a decision?
A: The current budget expires June 30. Without a new budget after that, government would have very limited authority to spend money and would soon have to start cutting services.
Q: So where do they disagree?
A: The governor and legislative leaders haven’t offered many details about what they’re seeking. But in general, Quinn wants to raise taxes and is reluctant to cut services more than absolutely necessary. Republican leaders see the shortfall as an opportunity to make deep cuts and launch long-term reforms that they favor. Democratic leaders say they support a tax increase, but many party members don’t, at least not until more cost-cutting takes place.
Q: Are they getting anywhere?
A: They haven’t reached a consensus on whether the budget problem must be resolved by July 1, but they have agreed to set up commissions on job creation and implementing cost-cutting proposals. These steps aren’t major, but they indicate an effort to show the public that officials will do more than just raise taxes.
Q: Why are state finances in such poor shape?
A: The state is bringing in less money. Revenues aren’t simply lower than expected, they’re lower than previous years by billions of dollars, an extremely rare situation. At the same time, expenses are climbing. That’s because of a mix of increasing costs for health care and employee benefits, new spending approved by legislators and former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, and state law requiring a much larger contribution to government pensions.