Leslie Geissler Munger visited the metro-east on Tuesday to discuss the ongoing state budget impasse and its effects on social service agencies, colleges and students.
In a meeting with the Belleville News-Democrat editorial board, Munger said she intended to apologize to those who are served by the Lessie Bates Neighborhood House in East St. Louis, which plans to lay off 117 employees.
“I spend a lot of time apologizing as an officer of the state for the lack of urgency (in how) the budget situation is being dealt with,” Munger said.
The General Assembly, controlled by Democrats, and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner have not agreed on a budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year, which began in July. They have battled over the governor’s Turnaround Agenda and the debate on whether to increase the state income tax to help erase budget shortfalls.
Munger, a Republican, added her office has tried to expedite payments to social service agencies when they have called saying they needed to be paid immediately.
Munger, who was appointed by Rauner to fill the term of Judy Baar Topinka who died shortly after being re-elected, said the lack of a budget is affecting universities, community colleges and students waiting for MAP grants.
“Things are stretched at the seams, and seams are splitting in places,” Munger said. “And yet our legislature doesn’t seem to have any urgency to get this solved.”
Munger criticized the legislature for working on bills that weren’t budget-related.
“Life would be much better if we had a budget in place and running the state like a normal, responsible group would be running things,” Munger said.
During Munger’s discussion at Lessie Bates, LINC Executive Director Lynn Jarman spoke about how not paying social service agencies could end up costing the state more in the long run.
A safety net created by social service agencies would disintegrate and clients who could end up in nursing homes, Jarman said.
“Once we get to that tipping point, and all that’s been worked on to be built here after the last 35 years or so, these safety nets that have been knitted together so we actually save the state money …there is no fixing this back over night,” Jarman said. “We’re about to increase the bills to Illinois substantially.”
During the metro-east visit, Munger also discussed some principles she wants to add to the budgeting process including planning spending two-years at a time, putting in alerts for when overspending is about to happen, having a rainy day fund when the bill backlog is low enough, and consolidating funds to make it easier to follow where money is spent.
The first-term comptroller also said there is a need for a constitutional pension reform because of chronic underfunding for years. She added reforms should be done without touching benefits already earned by current and previous employees.
“If we could have reforms that would bring the cost of that down by $1 or $2 billion annually, that would be a big help,” Munger said. “Then that money could go into education and social services and help fix some of these other problems.”
She has been equating the state’s financial situation to a home’s finances with $7,000 of bills in hand, with $2,000 bills coming in the mail, and $110,000 in credit card debt, all while having only $100 in the bank account.
“Would you look at that $100 and think it’s time to go shopping or you had any more money to go spend, which is essentially what our legislature does when they pass spending bills that don’t have the money attached to them to fund them,” Munger said. “We have to do something differently in the state and we have to do it now because there’s a real human cost.”
Munger said social services agencies have told her that if they knew what they would have they could manage for it.
“But they have no idea what they’re going to get, when they’re going to get it and the state is now so far behind in what we would owe them anyway under a normal year, we’ve put them in a hole, they’ve tapped out their line of credit in many cases and they have no idea what the future looks like, and (if) they will be reimbursed for any of these things,” Munger said.