“We have to be very thoughtful over how we spend it over a period of time,” Harris said. “We know it’s largely one-time money, so I think we’re all going to want to look at it really carefully to be sure that we’re not building this into a base that then there would be a cliff when this money expired.”
Unfortunately for Illinois, other uses for the federal cash that could prove most helpful to the state’s long-term financial health — such as using it to pay down $141 billion in unfunded pension liabilities or depositing it in the minuscule rainy day fund — also are prohibited.
Despite those restrictions, the aid from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which also includes billions of dollars for local governments, public schools and mass transit systems, offers the state time to come up with a better long-term plan for its finances as it emerges from the pandemic, said Laurence Msall, president of nonpartisan budget watchdog The Civic Federation.
“The state’s in a very bad financial situation. It was before the pandemic, and this revenue support has the potential to help the state of Illinois get through the next year,” Msall said. “But it is not going to solve the pension (problem), the high debt and Illinois’ sort of worst-in-the-nation credit rating unless the money is used wisely and more is done.”
That said, Msall gave Pritzker’s budget plan generally high marks for largely holding the line on spending and not relying on the budgetary gimmicks previously employed to cobble together so-called balanced budgets.