Ill. could face $9 billion budget deficit

February 4, 2009 5:24:57 PM PST
New governor Pat Quinn may be facing an even bigger challenge than he thought.Illinois comptroller Dan Hynes says the combined budget deficit for this year and next could approach $9 billion.

For the past several weeks, various state officials ABC7 has asked have given us only partial numbers on the deficit: They tell us either this year's revenue shortfall or next year's projected deficit.

Comptroller Hynes stepped up to the microphone on Wednesday and released the combined, bitter truth.

"As we put our budget together for next year, Illinois faces a $9 billion deficit, the largest in the state's history," said Dan Hynes, (D) Illinois comptroller.

Hynes called it the worst financial crisis in the 191 years of Illinois statehood. And the comptroller reported that Springfield should only expect three billion of dollars in help from the federal government.

"It's obviously a very sobering report. It shows the difficulties that I think not only our state is in but many other states," said Gov. Pat Quinn, (D) Illinois.

But at least one Springfield observor says the financial situation in Illinois is actually worse than in other states. Civic Federation president Laurence Msall said that for decades the state has spent more money than its taken in and charged the overspending to the following year's budget.

"Last year, the Illinois General Assembly passed the Governor Blagojevich about a $50 billion budget which they knew and publicly stated was about $1.5 billion more in spending than they had in available revenue. The state has consistently done that," said Laurence Msall, Civic Federation.

Msall also says the state has $60 billion in unfunded pension liabilities.

Governor Quinn met on Wednesday afternoon with the legislative leaders of both his Democrat and the Republican parties. All agreed to stop the political fights that have bogged down state government and delayed action on the crisis.

"We discussed the importance of respect and working together and being a good team player," said Quinn.

"The numbers are so bad that we have to work together. People don't expect us to play any games any more," said Sen. John Cullerton, (D) Illinois Senate president.

"We will disagree. There's no question about that. We all represent different constituents and have different ideas but we need a respectful context in which to have those disagreements," said Sen. Christine Radogno, (R) Senate minority leader.

As the lawmakers and the governor have future meetings to decide how to erase the deficit, they'll have to consider more cuts in services and/or an increase in the state income tax.

Mr. Msall of the Civic Federation told ABC7 on Wednesday the state, by law, cannot declare bankruptcy. But it can renounce its debt.