The budget reform work necessary to finish up Fiscal Year 2015 and start FY16 remained on the table this week as Illinois House committees began to hold hearings on Illinois spending plans. The first hearings by the House appropriations committees (http://www.ilga.gov/house/committees/hearing.asp?HearingID=12366&CommitteeID=1538) began on Thursday, February 26.
In the first committee hearing, the new heads of three of the State’s biggest-spending agencies – the Department of Public Health (DPH), the Department of Human Services (DHS), and the Department of Healthcare and Family Services (DHFS) – introduced themselves to the House of Representatives. All three were appointed by Governor Bruce Rauner. Major work will be necessary to develop a spending program that does not flow money out faster than it comes in. DHFS (http://www2.illinois.gov/hfs/Pages/default.aspx), in particular, is a department of key interest to budget watchers. It handles the multi-billion-dollar Illinois Medicaid program. Controversial decisions and hard choices are expected to be made. Representative Patti Bellock has taken the lead in working pushing for Medicaid budget reforms. A DHFS overview of the implementation of the reforms so far enacted, and the current budget status of Medicaid, can be found here (http://www2.illinois.gov/hfs/agency/Pages/Budget.aspx).
Further work remains to be done. With a shortfall estimated at $1.6 billion, many key spending areas in the FY15 budget are scheduled to run out of available funds prior to the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2015. The FY16 budget is even further out of balance. The “structural deficit,” the statutory commitments made by past Illinois administrations is a focus of attention by both Governor Rauner and the General Assembly at this time.