Yes, Illinois and all states need the stimulus package the U.S. Senate passed Saturday and which appears soon to be headed to President Joe Biden’s desk for signature. No, it’s not a “bailout” of blue states by red states. People in blue, red, and purple states are hurting and need help. Yes, 76 percent of Americans support the stimulus, including 60 percent of Republicans. No,
Yes, Illinois and all states need the stimulus package the U.S. Senate passed Saturday and which appears soon to be headed to President Joe Biden’s desk for signature.
No, it’s not a “bailout” of blue states by red states. People in blue, red, and purple states are hurting and need help.
Yes, 76 percent of Americans support the stimulus, including 60 percent of Republicans.
No, we are not going to spend a penny of the stimulus on old pension debt that predated the COVID-19 pandemic.
How will we use the money? I can tell you because I am the woman who pays the state’s bills.
1) Before we spend money on anything else, any stimulus money that comes to Illinois is earmarked to pay back money we borrowed from the Federal Reserve for the state’s COVID and other medical expenses during this pandemic.
Sometimes legislators hear there’s new money coming and get excited about ways to spend it. That’s why I’ve been so vocal in warning that, “No, that money is spoken for.”
The General Assembly authorized borrowing up to $5 billion. I told Governor Pritzker I would only sign off on $2 billion of borrowing because I would not support borrowing more than we could afford to pay back. And I wanted his commitment that any stimulus would go first toward paying back that borrowed money. He agreed.
I used that $2 billion to pay down Medicaid bills for which we get a federal match, allowing me to pay down $3.4 billion worth of Illinois’ bills, essentially stretching the value of that tax dollar as much as possible. That’s the responsible approach I have always taken as comptroller.
2) After we pay the debts, other stimulus money will plug the holes created by the prior presidential administration’s mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Had the advice of experts been followed earlier, the pandemic would have cost far fewer lives and wrought far less havoc on Illinois jobs and businesses than it did.
Restaurants and hotels were closed and not paying sales taxes. Employees were laid off. Not only were they not earning a paycheck and not paying personal income taxes to the state, people who’d never had to seek unemployment benefits had to file for the first time and avail themselves of other state services. The state had less money coming in and more demand for services. It was a double-whammy to the people and to the state budget, and it will take years to recover.
The long-term medical expenses from COVID survivors like my brother the Chicago Police Detective Sergeant, who my family is trying to nurse back to health, will unfold over time. For the uninsured, the costs are staggering and will ultimately be passed on to the state. Our friends and family who have lost their homes or their jobs will need more government help than states have budgeted for.
3) Illinois has been more transparent than any other state in spending the stimulus money we have received so far. Newspapers in Florida, Washington and Pennsylvania have all pointed to my Covid-19 Transparency Portal, showing how every penny of Illinois’ $3 billion in stimulus money so far has been spent, as a national model their states should emulate. I’m committed to keeping Illinois taxpayers informed of how their tax dollars are being and will be spent.
4) Before the pandemic, I proposed legislation that would require Illinois to set aside money into a rainy day fund, like other states do, as soon as our backlog of bills is down to a 30-day cycle. Currently, Illinois’ rainy day fund would finance state operations for about 30 seconds. Gov. Pritzker welcomed my initiative as a step toward responsible budgeting. The bond-rating agencies have cited our lack of a rainy day fund as a concern.
I took office during the worst fiscal crisis in the state’s history, after the previous governor ran up a record eight credit downgrades. My goal is to get the state’s finances back on a responsible track to the point that the rating agencies start giving us upgrades. That will take discipline. One ratings analyst told Governing magazine my commitment to paying the state’s bills has been comforting to them as they decide how to rate Illinois’ credit-worthiness.
5) From 2015 to 2019, Illinois taxpayers sent $16.4 billion more to the federal government than they got back in federal spending. Illinois has dutifully served as a top donor state, helping some of those same dependent states whose senators now mislabel this stimulus as a “bailout.” The stimulus package is the federal government’s attempt to help Americans in every state.
Susana A. Mendoza is Illinois’ elected state comptroller. She previously served as Chicago city clerk and a six-term state representative. She lives in Chicago’s Portage Park neighborhood and holds a business degree from Truman State University.