No matter who is elected tomorrow the focus come general election time will be on how to fix the state's deficit problems.
The Illinois General Assembly reconvenes Wednesday. And at the top of its agenda: the difficult task of forrmulating the state's budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Despite tight times and budget cuts in past years, legislators say *this* may be one of the worst years yet. Illinois faces a 12 billion dollar deficit...and the state already is down a billion dollars in revenue this year.
KHQA's Melissa Shriver talked with your local Illinois legislators to get their take on what you can expect this year.
How tough of a budget year will this be?
Representative Jil Tracy said, "It's going to be the worst I've ever seen. It's going to be extreme."
Senator John Sullivan said, "The challenges in this upcoming session as we try to put a budget together are going to be tremendous."
State Senator John Sullivan and Representative Jil Tracy say balancing the budget with dropping revenue and a huge deficit will be tricky. And there's another catch. Even with the budget woes seen the past several years, the state's always found a fiscal safety net. Some years, the state borrowed money to get by, now it faces interest payments from those loans. Then there are the cuts. Last year you'll recall some state service agencies faced losing up to 80 percent of their state funding. Some of that money was saved after the state used federal stimulus dollars to ease some of the proposed cuts. But stimulus dollars may not be available this year. And that means legislators will have to make some tough choices.
Representative Rich Myers said, "We can't continue to borrow every other year. Every single year we go back to borrowing, we have to pay that money back and we have to pay it back with interest and that interest has to come from somewhere. So do we borrow the money to pay the interest? Our credit rating is already next to the lowest in the U.S. and at some point it's going to become like junk bond status where no one's going to want to loan us any money."
Representative Rich Myers says state agencies will be lucky to get the same funding they saw in 2009. Right now, cuts are inevitable. The major question for all these lawmakers is, what to cut?
Rep. Tracy said, "We have to have education, we have to have pension payments and we have to have a safety net for people in need or most vulnerable. Where the reforms and where the cuts are going to come will be part and parcel of the budget process."
Rep. Myers said, "Whether it's additional revenue or budget cuts to change the culture of spending in Illinois. We've got to take a look at the way the budgets have been addressed in the past and change this. We've got the perfect opportunity now. We're almost at the bottom of the situation, we can't get much lower."
For more insight on the upcoming budget crisis from these legislators, click here for Melissa Shriver's blog 'Melly's Moments.'