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Our View: Give biennial budget a try

Published: Wednesday, April 23, 2014 10:31 p.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, April 24, 2014 12:09 a.m. CDT

One reason given by Gov. Pat Quinn for postponing his annual budget address until March 26 was that he wanted to put forth a five-year financial plan for the state.

While that might merely have been an excuse to put off the speech until after the March 18 primary election, it is worth noting that other states have multiyear budgets.

Three states that border Illinois – Indiana, Kentucky and Wisconsin – are among the 19 states that produce two-year budgets, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Until 1970, Illinois did the same thing.

Biennial budgeting requires longer-range planning and, as one would expect, provides greater financial certainty within state departments and agencies.

Economic recessions and faulty estimates tend to throw monkey wrenches into such long-term spending plans, but they do the same with annual budgets.

And, Illinois hasn’t had such good luck lately with its annual budgets, has it?

The state has had a string of deficit budgets, even though the Illinois Constitution bans them. At last count, the state owed its vendors a whopping $7 billion, its credit rating was in the toilet, and the $100 billion unfunded pension crisis remained in limbo.

For states that engage in biennial budgeting, the process actually covers about 30 months – six months to plan and write the budget, and 24 months while it is in effect.

With all that work out of the way, the second year of the budget is when the Illinois General Assembly and the public could reap the benefits.

Second-year legislative sessions could, and should, be shorter. Our neighbor, Indiana, has a 60-day legislative session the year the budget is written and approved, and a 30-day session the next year.

What’s the old saying? No one is truly safe when the Legislature is in session. Well, under biennial budgeting, lawmakers would not have to be in session so often during the second year, which would likely do them (and us) some good.

What’s that other old saying? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.

Producing annual budgets year after year hasn’t solved Illinois’ financial problems, has it? It’s time to think differently.

Illinois is in the midst of its fourth, and supposedly last, year of increased revenue from the temporary income tax increase imposed in January 2011. We don’t believe that taxpayers have gotten enough in return.

Multiyear budgeting might just be the ticket to impose stricter financial discipline on spending and steer the state out of its financial rut. Illinois ought to give it a try.

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