Greising: Behind the Race to Fight COVID-19, Can Illinois Keep Its Finances in Order?

As Pritzker reworks his budget, the state has precious little flexibility. With $7.4 billion in unpaid bills, a credit rating that’s just one notch above junk and a pension system that eats up more than 20% of the state’s operating budget, it faces a trifecta of trouble.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

BGA President David Greising writes every other week for the Chicago Tribune Opinion section.

Stores are closed, jobs are disappearing. People are barely driving, much less flying. Farmers are in the fields — where social distancing is a way of life — but there’s no telling what the market for their crops will look like. The stock market is down 20% for the year.

And somebody’s supposed to figure out the cost of all this?

Well, yes. Gov. J.B. Pritzker ultimately will be responsible for determining the impact on the state’s budget — as if he doesn’t have enough to do fighting the COVID-19 virus day and night. The human toll is climbing rapidly, and Pritzker has shown compassion for victims and caretakers, and a resolve to do his best for the state.

The effort ultimately will include addressing the financial fallout from COVID-19 too. Pritzker showed at a news conference this week that state finances are on his mind, even as he deals with the rest of the coronavirus pandemic. He said there is no telling yet what the financial cost will be, or how revenues and the rest of his 2021 budget will be affected.

Jim Muschinski is one person in state government whose job is to tally the troubles. As chief revenue officer of the Illinois Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, he delivers forecasts to the state legislature. It’s a demanding job under any circumstances and daunting now.

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