November 1, 2010

Representative Will Burns Looks at Budget Crises

 Representative Will Burns.

ALTHOUGH THE Gubernatorial candidates’ views on the State budget crisis got a lot of examination during the recent campaign, it is the Illinois General Assembly—State Senators and State Representatives—who will end up doing the heavy lifting to try to improve the situation.

REPRESENTATIVE WILL BURNS of the 26th District (the South Loop and Bronzeville in Chicago) recently looked at issues important to UIC.

HE SERVES on the State House’s Health and Healthcare Disparities and Health Care Availability Access committees, and also is on the Appropriations Committee for Elementary and Secondary Education. As such, he keeps an eye on UIC, which is both a healthcare provider and an educator for former elementary and secondary school students.

BURNS IS the former Education and Tax Policy Manager for the Metropolitan Planning Council and was Community Outreach Coordinator for State Senator Barack Obama. He also serves on the board of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability.

CONCERNING THE State budget crisis, Burns said that more budget cuts would be coming. The State, he said has “to continue making cuts where we can afford to make cuts. We’ve cut over $3 million in general revenue spending over the last two years. That’s significant because you’re looking at a base of about $23 to $24 million in spending. That’s not chump change.”

TO BURNS, cuts are necessary because the State has not “had the revenue to keep up with the cost of doing business even during good economic times,” let alone the current crisis, he said.

HE IS looking for the State to adhere to the performance-based budgeting model. Performance budgets use statements of missions, goals, and objectives to determine if and why money should be spent, allocating resources to achieve specific objectives based on program goals and measured results.

“ONE THING I’m excited about is performance-based budgeting, which requires us to look at those things that really do add value to the State and align our resources with that,” he said.

EDUCATIONAL INSTIUTIONS add value to the State, Burns believes. Illinois, he said, needs to “invest in education--early childhood education, kindergarten through grade 12, and higher education. An educated population is what’s going to attract business; that’s what’s going to keep Illinois at the cutting edge-- our ability to have a highly qualified workforce.”

HE DOES not shy away from discussing a tax increase, saying, “I support an income tax increase for the purpose of investing in public education, including higher education, because it’s an investment in our State’s long-term future.”

CONCERNING OUR pensions, Burns feels the two-tiered system that will result in higher retirement ages for those hired after Jan. 1, 2011, was necessary. “We passed a major pension reform bill this spring, which increased the retirement age for certain public employees and makes other changes in the cost-of-living adjustments in the pensions, and other reforms,” he noted.

“WHAT’S IMPORTANT about that is that it reduces the State’s long-term liability, and the pension system’s, by several hundred billion dollars. That’s critical, because if we’re looking at putting our pension systems on track and making them sustainable, we have to look at benefits for future employees,” Burns said.

“SO I think those reforms are an important step, but we also have to look at making sure we right our State’s fiscal equation—again, investing in education. We have to make sure we have the revenue to do that, we have to find efficiencies in the budget, and at the same time we right ourselves, we also must put ourselves on the right path to sustainability,” he explained.

WITH THE State owing the University millions of dollars, Burns favors the State borrowing to pay its bills.

“I DID vote for a short-term borrowing bill down in Springfield, and the House of Representatives passed that bill,” Burns noted. “But the Senate did not take action on it. That short-term borrowing bill would have allowed the State to pay a lot more of its bills this summer and in the fall, so we could have paid the University of Illinois and paid social service providers and others who have been doing great work for the State.

“IT DIDN’T pass, but we’re hoping it will pass during the fall veto session so that we can unload our backload of bills,” Burns noted.

“IT’S A better deal for the State to do short- term borrowing than to not pay its bills, because if we don’t pay our bills, we are liable for interest under the Prompt Payment Act after a certain period of time,” Burns said.

THE STATE, Burns explained has outsourced “a lot of our responsibilities to the not- for-profit sector. When the State fails to pay its smaller social service providers have to go on the private market to borrow money in order to make payroll. But banks aren’t loaning money.

“WE’RE BALANCING our budget on the backs of schools and community-based organizations, which is not the way anybody should want the government to be run,” Burns concluded.

--William S. Bike

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