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“We’ve been making tough choices and, I think, making a lot of accomplishments.”
– Senate President John Cullerton speaking on the budget, June 2, 2011, Associated Press
Illinois lawmakers have been patting themselves on the back for supposedly holding the line on spending and getting rid of wasteful projects. Should taxpayers buy into this newfound “fiscal responsibility?” No.
A review by the Illinois Policy Institute found that the budget passed by the House left overall spending levels largely unchanged from last year. Additionally, many low-priority projects are slated to receive millions of dollars – dollars that deficit-plagued state government doesn’t have to spare.
The ball is now in Gov. Quinn’s court.
In his budget address earlier this year, Gov. Quinn promised taxpayers “we will only use tax dollars to provide necessary services…all unnecessary state spending will be eliminated.”
Will the ink in Gov. Quinn’s veto pen run dry from the many line-item budget reductions that will be needed to honor his pledge? Taxpayers are waiting and watching.
Low Priority State Spending in Fiscal Year 2012 Budget Passed by the General Assembly
$4,037,500: Upward Mobility Program
Central Management Services (HB124, General Revenue Fund)
Available only to state employees who are union members represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, the Upward Mobility Program pays 100 percent of tuition costs at public institutions and a set amount per credit hour at select private universities. Participants can also receive financial assistance to pay for textbooks, fees, proficiency tests, remedial classes, licensure review classes and licensure examinations. After completing the program state employees are given “special consideration in the filling of vacancies” of targeted state job titles.
Illinois is in the midst of a massive budget crisis. Workers who hold state positions in Illinois already are well paid, receive generous benefits and enjoy high job security. Illinois needs to prioritize spending on core government services over union perks.
$1,057,500: DuQuoin State Fair and Illinois State Fair entertainment and award costs
Department of Agriculture (HB124, General Revenue Fund)
Fairs may be fun, but they’re not high up on the public funding priority list – especially when the state is billions of dollars behind in paying service providers.
The budget appropriates $652,100 for entertainment and other expenses from the DuQuoin State Fair, and $405,400 for awards and premiums at the Illinois State Fair.
The DuQuoin State Fair and the Illinois State Fair have a long record of incurring expenditures that outweigh their revenues. Between fiscal years 2001 and 2009, the two fairs lost a combined total that exceeded $41.8 million. While turning a profit may not be the purpose of the state fairs, it is unacceptable for the state fairs to lose millions of dollars each year.
States such as South Dakota, Ohio, Colorado and Kansas have reduced their fair spending to deal with budget shortages, while Michigan recently shut down its government-run state fair. Meanwhile, Texas has shown that a privately-run state fair that operates without government subsidy can be successful.
$4,214,400: Grants to Art Organizations and Individuals
Illinois Arts Council (HB124, General Revenue Fund)
When the state is strapped for cash – and when taxpayers and core services are suffering – certain items do not make the state’s top-priority list. Grants to art organizations and individual artists may be nice, but they’re not necessary.
Funding for the arts and related programs belongs in the private sector, which has demonstrated its ability and inclination to support cultural endeavors. Chicago, in particular, is known for its world-class entertainment, which draws talent from around the globe. Strangely, the state is still providing money to many of the city’s most prestigious organizations, despite their star power and expansive donor base. For example, in 2009 the Illinois Arts Council gave $60,000 in grants to the Art Institute of Chicago, which had a fund balance of $1 billion on June 30, 2008.
- While the program may have good intentions, teaching fishing skills is not a core government service. There are higher priorities for state money than a fishing program meant to counteract the ills of urban living, such as welfare-to-work programs. Ending state support for a low-priority program does not necessarily mean the underlying activities will cease to exist. According to the Urban Fishing Program website, “volunteers and volunteer organizations have become more involved to both conduct and to assist with programs” and have held numerous “volunteer fishing clinics.” This demonstrates that there are individuals and nonprofits willing to address the demand for this type of social good.
$365,400: Urban Fishing Program
Department of Natural Resources (HB124, Wildlife and Fish Fund)
The Illinois Urban Fishing Program was created “in Chicago in 1985 to teach individuals of all ages to fish, to provide better local fishing opportunities, and to give participants an understanding of and a greater appreciation for natural resources.” The program provides free summer fishing clinics at stocked ponds and other fishing outreach events. Although the program started in Chicago, it now provides free fishing clinics throughout the state.
$2,615,600: Sparta World Shooting and Recreation Complex
Department of Natural Resources (HB124, State Parks Fund and Wildlife and Fish Fund)
The World Shooting and Recreation Complex (WSRC) in Sparta was completed in 2006 at a construction cost of $31.5 million (another $18 million was designated for road, water, and sewer improvement). The 1,600-acre facility includes 746 RV campsites, 120 trap shooting fields and a 34,000 square foot events center. Now that the complex is up and running, it should stand on its own without taxpayer subsidies.
The budget allocates $2.4 million for “ordinary and contingent expenses of the World Shooting and Recreational Complex,” and $200,000 for the “Sparta Imprest Account,” which is used to handle minor disbursements, such as awards for competitions.
$23,836,900: Tourism PromotionDepartment of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (HB124, Tourism Promotion Fund)
The state spends millions of dollars promoting Illinois tourism around the world and throughout Illinois. Revenue from the Hotel Operators’ Occupation Tax funds tourism spending. Each year, the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) is responsible for disbursing tourism money to cities, counties and other entities.
However, many of the tourism promotion allotments have been questionable; in recent years, tourism grants from the DCEO have included:
- $29,550 for a Lois Lane statue in Metropolis, Ill.
- $334,093 to Rockome Gardens for renovations including the addition of Amish cheese and ice cream production facilities.
- $100,000 to the Municipal Clerks of Illinois for the International Institute of Municipal Clerks 2009 Conference.
- $200,000 for the costs associated with hosting Fashion Focus Chicago 2009.
- $32,681 for promotion of Fashion Focus 2008.
Funding a Lois Lane statue or contributing to Chicago’s fashion scene does not constitute a core government priority. Rather than giving special benefits to a few specific tourist attractions, Illinois needs to consider new avenues for attracting tourists, such as decreasing the cost of visiting Illinois by lowering taxes.
Among the nearly $24 million in tourism promotion budgeted from the Tourism Promotion Fund is administrative and grant costs for statewide tourism ($7,317,700); advertising and promotion of tourism ($12,578,700); promoting tourism in international markets ($3,740,500); development of the Illinois Grape and Wine Industry ($150,000); and promotion of the Illinois State Fair Ethnic Village ($50,000).
$1,267,685: Internship Program
Illinois Legislative Research Unit and Central Management Services (HB123, HB124, General Revenue Fund)
The Illinois Legislative Research unit was appropriated $694,700 to cover internships for 24 persons, or approximately $28,946 per person. Participants in the Governor’s and Vito Marzullo’s internship programs receive $31,332 annually and full state benefits.
These internship salaries are well above the norm in the private sector, as well as the starting wages for many college graduates. Additionally, an Illinoisan earning minimum wage at a full-time job would only receive $17,160 annually – well below the internship salary.
$243,800: Foster Grandparent Program
Department on Aging (HB3717, General Revenue Fund)
Many of the Department of Aging’s programs can be organized and promoted through civil society. Volunteer referral services such as the Illinois Foster Grandparents Program should be reexamined for how they can operate without public funding.
Further, as recently as last year, the Illinois Foster Grandparents Program was directing would-be volunteers to a shady website selling “Medigap” insurance policies. Only after the Illinois Policy Institute pointed this out was the problem fixed. It’s unclear whether or not the Foster Grandparents Program is a high priority.
$1,640,000: Diversifying Higher Education Faculty in Illinois Program
Board of Higher Education (HB3700, General Revenue Fund)
According to the Illinois Board of Higher Education, the purpose of the Diversifying Higher Education Faculty in Illinois Program is to provide “financial assistance, based on demonstrated financial need, for members of traditionally underrepresented groups to pursue and complete graduate degrees at Illinois institutions of higher education.” These groups include: “Black/African American, Hispanic American, Asian American, American Indian or Alaskan Native.”
The state shouldn’t pick winners and losers based on demographic characteristics; financial aid should be awarded generally and for merit. Illinois’s institutions of higher education offer competitive compensation packages and an opportunity to pursue an academic passion; these rewards provide strong incentives for applicants of every color to matriculate and apply for positions.
$9,000,000: Renewable Energy Resources Program and the Illinois Renewable Fuels Development Program
Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (HB124, Renewable Energy Resources Trust Fund)
Illinois’s wealth of energy resources should be utilized to provide Illinois’s families and businesses with reliable sources of power. However, Illinois state government is distorting energy prices and driving up overall government spending by awarding tax dollars to certain energy sectors via special government programs.
In recent years, solar, wind, and biomass/biogas grants from the Renewable Energy Resources Program have included:
- $450,000 for the University of Illinois to “implement the Biogas and Biomass to Energy program.”
- $253,350 for solar thermal hot water systems to heat Northern Illinois University’s swimming pools.
- $132,198 for the Pacific Garden Mission to install a solar thermal hot water system at its new facility in Chicago.
- $82,006 for six grants to individuals for small-scale wind energy conversion systems.
- $32,000 to the Illinois Solar Energy Association to “promote solar energy in Illinois through the Illinois Solar Tour, the Heliographs newsletter, and by studying the potential to aggregate renewable energy credits for small-scale solar photovoltaic energy systems.”
- $13,358 to the Phi Kappa Theta fraternity house at Northern Illinois University for a solar thermal energy system in order to “increase the utilization of alternative energy technology in Illinois.”
New subsidies for energy projects should not be enacted, and current subsides need to be removed. Across Illinois, private companies provide funding for their own marketing, promotion, and research and development; firms in the energy industry should be treated in the same way.Get Out the Veto Pen: 10 Actions Gov. Quinn Must Take to Eliminate Unnecessary Spending
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