State Budget Practice Report Cards and Budget Resource Guide

Illinois was one of only two states—Kansas was the other—to receive average grades of D or below in budget maneuvers, legacy costs, and reserve funds for fiscal 2015 through 2019. Illinois posted D averages in budget maneuvers and reserve funds but a D-minus, the worst grade possible, in legacy costs, which includes public employee pensions and other postemployment benefits (OPEB), mainly health care. At 39 percent, Illinois’s pension funding ratio in 2019 was 32 percentage points below the total for all states and the lowest of the fifty. Illinois also failed to provide adequate OPEB funding. With a liability of $54.5 billion at the end of fiscal 2019, it delivers these benefits on a pay-as-you-go basis.

The state, which failed to enact a budget in 2016 and 2017, also consistently used one-time measures to pay for recurring operating expenditures. They included deferring payment of vendor bills to future years, issuing bonds to pay down the bill backlog, and including assumed proceeds from a planned asset sale as revenues. In reserve funds, their D average reflects deficits in general fund balances, minimal rainy day fund balances, and a failure to link reserves to revenue volatility.

The one bright spot for Illinois was its B in transparency. The grade was buoyed in 2019 by the disclosure, for the first time, of at least $25 billion in deferred infrastructure maintenance costs for buildings, universities, roads, bridges, and schools. Only four other states make similar disclosures.

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To emphasize the need for clear and comprehensible budgets to inform citizens, promote responsible policymaking, and improve fiscal stability, the Volcker Alliance in 2016 began a study of budgetary and financial reporting practices of all fifty states. The Volcker Alliance’s mission is to improve the effectiveness of the administration of government at all levels. Making state budgeting more transparent and accountable is an important part of that goal.

The report cards presented here are taken from the 2021 Volcker Alliance report, Truth and Integrity in State Budgeting: Preparing for the Storm, which proposes a set of best practices for policymakers. For those wishing to gain greater insight into state fiscal issues, the accompanying budget resource guide is derived from the Alliance publication State Budget Sources: An Annotated Guide to State Budgets, Financial Reports, and Fiscal Analyses (2016). 

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