(The Center Square) – As the Illinois Senate prepares to return to the Illinois Capitol Tuesday, leaders from opposite sides of the aisles are eying the state’s troubled finances.
Senate President Don Harmon. D-Oak Park, told the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute Monday since voters last year rejected the proposed progressive income tax increase on higher earners, the day of reckoning is here.
“The only alternative I can think of is to start cutting some of those government services to figure out what tolerance people have for giving up some of those things they assumed were always going to happen,” Harmon said.
He’s not eager for cuts but he said the conversation must happen.
Minority Republicans have for years said the state needs to shore up spending.
Senate Minority Leader Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods, said they’ll keep pushing for that.
“We’re going to talk about pension reform, we’re going to be talking about Medicaid reform, we’re going to be talking about group health insurance, a myriad of other things that we believe are fundamentally necessary to get our budget back on track,” McConchie said in a separate interview.
One major driver of the state’s poor finances is the more than $140 billion in unfunded pension liability, costs of which are crowding out funds of other services.
McConchie said people leaving the state see that in the rearview mirror addressing pensions could send a welcoming signal.
“Actually doing this hard work of getting the out-of-control pensions and stuff under control is what it is that is going to take to have people say ‘Illinois is a place that we want to go and establish roots,’” McConchie said.
Harmon told the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute to reverse population loss, the state must address its fiscal issues, including the pension liability.
“If we can get our arms around that then I think the economic and fiscal future of the state is far brighter,” Harmon said. “We have to tackle that honestly and directly and not hope for magic beans to make somebody else solve the problem for us.”
The Illinois Senate returns to Springfield for an in-person session Tuesday. Senators and their staff, and anyone wanting to interact with them in the Senate offices, chambers or committee rooms must get a saliva test for COVID-19.
“The building is not fully opened yet,” Harmon said as he noted Senators, their staff, and journalists wanting to cover Senate proceedings in-person, will have to take a COVID-19 saliva test.
Last week Harmon’s staff told the media journalists would have to pay $30 for the test twice a week but late Sunday said the costs for such tests will be covered by the Senate.
"You will not need a negative test to enter the Capitol building or the pressroom," Senate President Don Harmon's Deputy Press Secretary Liz Mitchell wrote in an email to journalists on Sunday. "You will need to show a negative test to enter the press boxes, media gallery or committee rooms."
Mitchell said she will see what she can find for the total taxpayer cost of testing Senators, staff and media that take the test.
“I’m hoping that the experiment will prove successful,” Harmon said.
State Sen. Steve McClure, R-Springfield, told WMAY this is not how state government should function.
“Without the sort of give-and-take that people can participate in person, it just makes the entire process not function the way it should, in my view,” McClure said. “We don’t have people come and see us. That's essential for state government to run effectively so it’s very unfortunate that that’s how it’s being run right now without being able to see our constituents and getting the interaction we’re typically used to.”