Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan said the state has a long way to go to get out of its current financial hole.
However, he said legislators made a good start last year by cutting Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposed budget by $2 billion.
Madigan made a rare public address to a forum at and outlined some of the fiscal challenges facing the state, but he offered few election year remedies. Tuesday’s event was the fifth annual governmental forum held at Elmhurst College.
Madigan used broad strokes to outline some of the economic concerns facing Illinois, including pension reform, state budget, workers compensation, unemployment and educational reform.
Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, said addressing the state budget is the most difficult task facing the legislature due to limited resources. He said the state has a “huge budget problem,” much of which stems from overspending.
Madigan accepted some of the responsibility for the state’s financial woes. He said the legislature spent more than the state took in during many budget cycles, which led to the state owing millions of dollars in unpaid bills. Madigan has been House Speaker since 1983, with the exception of two years when Lee Daniels, an adjunct faculty member in Elmhurst College's political science department, was speaker. As speaker, Madigan controls what bills come to the House floor, but said he was “one of many” who signed off on overspending.
“There are plenty of legislators from both parties who would rather spend than cut,” Madigan said following the event.
Sen. Kirk Dillard, a Hinsdale Republican, agreed with Madigan that there are numerous state lawmakers who share the blame for the state's economic problems. He said he commends Madigan for shouldering some of the responsibility, but added that Madigan has been the one constant in the Illinois legislature throughout the economic decline.
Illinois currently faces a budget deficit of about $8 billion.
The state’s budget woes contributed to weak economic growth across the region, said Lance Pressl, president of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce Foundation. Pressl said the economy in the Chicago region has stagnated as leaders struggle to shift from a manufacturing-based economy to a more innovate and modern economy.
Pressl said a soon-to-be-published study commissioned by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development indicated that the only part of the economy to grow in recent years is the public sector. Pressl warned that government cannot be the solution to the state’s economic problems. He said public and private leaders must come together to find solutions to grow the economy.
Elmhurst Mayor Pete DiCianni said those kinds of local partnerships have proven to be cost savers, particularly in social services. He asked Madigan if the legislature would push for more partnerships.
Without committing his support, Madigan said he knows there are plenty of lawmakers who prefer community-based programs.
Madigan said he did not expect to cut local distribution funds, which must be a relief to some local government leaders who lobbied against proposed cuts last year.
Any solution to the state’s budget woes would have to be long-term, Madigan said.
“There’s a limit in how far to raise taxes and how much you can cut,” Madigan said.
In January 2011, the legislature passed a midnight-hour income tax hike that is set to expire in 2015. However, when speaking to reporters after the forum, Madigan would not address whether he would support extending the hike or making it permanent.
Madigan also addressed the state’s woefully underfunded public pension plans and called on local school districts to contribute more to the pension plans. Madigan said the state contributes about $3 billion to the teacher retirement fund, even though they’re not state employees. He said it’s not out of line to ask the districts to pay into the system.
“Why don’t you contribute? These are your employees,” he said.