McHENRY, IL – State Sen. Pamela Althoff (R-McHenry) is joining with the Illinois Policy Institute and other reform-minded groups in backing a plan to enhance fiscal transparency in state government.
Althoff will become a lead Senate sponsor of a measure that would greatly expand the use and scope of fiscal notes – estimates aimed at determining the cost, savings, revenue gain or loss resulting from the implementation of proposed legislation.
“These are extremely difficult fiscal times for the State of Illinois, and we need every tool at our disposal to roll back the cost of government,” said Althoff, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “By enhancing fiscal notes, we help lawmakers, the media and the public get a better idea of just how costly a program will be to the state in the short and long term.”
A recent survey by the Illinois Policy Institute discovered that out of 545 bills that passed the General Assembly, only 2.6 percent – or 14 bills – had fiscal notes attached. Out of those fiscal notes that were filed, many provided little information and contained fewer than two sentences.
Althoff noted the information fiscal notes do contain is often opaque, and contain few details on what the long-range financial implications of the legislation would be.
“While well intentioned, the whole fiscal note process needs to be updated to give lawmakers, journalists and the public a better idea of the financial effects of proposed legislation,” Althoff said. “Under the current system, lawmakers have little idea how much a bill will cost taxpayers over the long-term. As we face record budget deficits and debt, that must change so we can be sure the measures we pass are good for our long-term fiscal health.”
The measure, which will be taken up by lawmakers this fall, would enact the following fiscal note reforms:
1. Independence – ensuring the fiscal notes are authored by a neutral and independent source, rather than the affected state agency as they are now
2. Accountability – including a reference and sources section that identifies staff and other entities that supplied the information
3. Methodology – making sure the fiscal notes contain an explanation of the method used to produce the cost estimates
4. Accessibility – creating a searchable fiscal note tracking system
5. Staff levels – providing an estimate of how the legislation would change position levels by agency
6. Long-term fiscal impact – providing a minimum five-year fiscal forecast
7. Uniformity – ensuring a uniform procedure to calculate the statistics
8. Notes required – today, fiscal notes are only filed if the sponsor of the measure or a majority of those voting in their chamber deem it necessary. Althoff’s measure would change that so a fiscal note is always required whenever the proposed legislation involves spending and taxation, unless both the sponsor and majority of the chamber deem no note is necessary.
Taken as a whole, Althoff said the reforms will not only enhance transparency as to the cost of new programs, but impose greater fiscal discipline as well.
“If lawmakers had a better grasp of how much legislation would cost, I think we’d see more discretion in the bills passed by the General Assembly, and save the state tax dollars in the long run,” Althoff said.
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