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Governor’s budget chief needs to thread Rauner’s $9 billion needle

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In a joint hearing Wednesday, the Senate’s budget committees welcomed Gov. Bruce Rauner’s newest budget director, Hans Zigmund, to highlight the fiscal challenges that Illinois government continues to face.

Zigmund, who is Rauner’s third budget director since taking office three years ago, told legislators that a $9 billion hole must be filled to balance the state’s books.

After nearly an hour of inquiry and references of increased revenue estimates and “unappropriated liabilities,” Committee Chairwoman Heather Steans (D-Chicago) asked Zigmund to provide a simple, big picture of the upcoming budget.

STEANS:          OK, so I want to just get the total picture of what you believe is the total picture of the problem we’re solving. We have an $8.5 billion or so backlog of unpaid bills right now… plus another $600 million of a hole this current year?”

ZIGMUND:      Uh, the number that I saw was, I think, at $8.3 billion and then $600 million in unpaid bills…”

STEANS:        And I’m assuming that whatever else you think is out there, the FY17 that you’re bringing is probably already included in that backlog of bills?”

 ZIGMUND:       That’s correct.”

STEANS:         So, you believe the entire picture that we need to solve is the $8.3 billion in unpaid bills, thereabouts, plus what you believe is another $600 million shortfall that we’re adding to it, the current fiscal year, for a total of close to $9 billion?”

ZIGMUND:       Yes.”

STEANS:        OK, thanks.”

But Zigmund’s biggest challenge in designing the governor’s promised balanced budget goes beyond the $9 billon needle he must thread. Since last year, Rauner has promised to cut tax rates that have helped to reduce state debt and invest in critical services like schools.

Although it’s all a tall order, both Zigmund and Rauner have insisted that they can finally present a balanced budget plan to legislators on Feb. 14.