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New 2012 Budget Approach Leaves Illinois Arts Organizations In Fiscal Limbo

Illinois budget
Image by iluvcocacola via Flickr

For Illinois arts organizations, there’s some good news and some bad news in Gov. Pat Quinn’s new 2012 budget proposal.

State Sen. Heather Steans (D-7th), chairwoman of the Illinois Senate Appropriations Committee, says the Illinois Arts Council’s budget is slated to receive a $2 million increase under Quinn’s budget plan, which is for the new fiscal year beginning July 1st.

From current fiscal year 2011 to fiscal year 2012, Steans said the proposed budget increase raises the council’s budget from $9.3 million to $11.4 million.

But because the state appropriations committees – which write the state budget each year– are only beginning the budgeting process, Steans said those increases aren’t guaranteed.

“[Quinn’s budget] is $1.5 billion out of balance. So we’re going to have to make additional cuts,” Steans said. Those cuts would be determined once the budget process finalizes.

Though nothing is certain, arts organizations like the Illinois Arts Council are concerned about where – and when – they’ll get their money.

“It’s a cash flow issues for the state. They have to prioritize who gets paid first,” Tatiana Gant, director of Arts-in-Education for the Illinois Arts Council, said, referring to the state’s current $15 billion deficit.

“Unfortunately, arts organizations are not the high priority,” Gant said. “I can understand why they’re behind [on] health services—really necessary things. But it’s also [arts employees], and their jobs and their pay checks.”

A new budgeting approach, however, may result in state arts organizations receiving their funds in a more efficient manner.

Steans said because the state’s budget approach for appropriations has changed over the years, she’s voted against the past two state budgets. Before fiscal year 2012, the senator said the state worked with a lump-sum budget approach.

A lump sum budget means the money the state plans to spend would be put into one package, and then letting the governor decide how the money would be spent.

Senator Steans said the idea behind the lump sum approach was that lawmakers in Springfield weren’t sure if they had the votes to pass a line item budget, where each individual item on the budget is considered for cuts.

The responsibility for budgeting lies solely with the governor—an approach Steans said abdicated the legislature’s role in creating the budget, and resulted in miscommunication and delayed payments.

“What happens is that [the agencies’ money] is just sitting there, and no one really knows what their budgets are,” Steans said. “The lump sum budget enables that [outcome].”

State Sen. Matt Murphy (R-27th), minority spokesman for the Illinois Senate Appropriations Committee, said the state’s new budgeting approach will hopefully result in appropriations matching up with revenues.

State Rep. Sandy Cole (R-62nd), spokeswoman for Illinois House Appropriations Commitee II  for General Services, said the state Revenue Committee will come up with a specific budget number for appropriations committees sometime next week.

Cole said state organizations, including the Illinois Arts Council, will then have to defend their budgets before the appropriations committee, who will then decide whether to approve those requests.

Cole couldn’t give more specific details until the revenue committee could provide more concrete numbers.

Repeated attempts to contact State Rep. Fred Crespo (D-44th), who chairs the Illinois House Appropriations II for General Services, were unsuccessful.

Senator Murphy said the new approach to the budget will mean appropriations committees will be used more effectively, but that difficult decisions on which programs will be funded, and which will be cut, still have to be made.

“At some point, we’re going to have to start having the will to say no to people,” Murphy said. “Because if we don’t, people continue to run deficits, people will continue to lag behind, and we become in perpetuity a deadbeat state that, frankly, job creators won’t come to.”

Where arts and culture is concerned though, some advocates say the very core of Illinois’s existence is at stake.

“When countries are in trouble, sometimes the things they want to eliminate are the tangible things that represent their history,” Patricia L. Miller, executive director of the Illinois Heritage Association, said.

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