Legislator warns of subject to appropriation ‘blank checks,’ audit findings



(The Center Square) – Some are warning their fellow Illinois state legislators that passing bills that are “subject to appropriation” could lead to taxpayers covering “blank checks” and to audit findings for state agencies.

Last week, amid the 324 bills passed by the Illinois House, several included programs and initiatives for state agencies that are “subject to appropriation.”

One measure would create a new program to help fund certain farm programs with tax dollars. Another dealt with researching the impacts of arts programs. Another measure allows a state agency to rework a web portal for a state-run program. There were even measures dealing with electric vehicles and recreational trails that were “subject to appropriation.”

Some legislators couldn’t answer whether new programs were going to be funded through federal tax funds, state tax funds or other funds. Some also couldn’t answer how much things may cost taxpayers, or disregarded cost estimates.

State Rep. Fred Crespo, D-Hoffman Estates, who is co-chair of the Legislative Audit Commission, warned lawmakers of such actions.

“It becomes a line item. If you don’t put any funding, it will be an audit finding for the agency and not only that, once you create the line item you’re leaving this at the hands of a few to determine whether it gets funded or not and we have no control,” Crespo said.

Legislators are off this week. They return next week with an eye on appropriating an annual state spending plan with an estimated taxpayer cost of $54 billion. Crespo said having bills stack up that are “subject to appropriation” makes new programs compete with other priorities.

“I would ask my colleagues on both sides at a minimum try to identify how much you think a project is going to cost and whether it’s going to be paid for through other state funds, [general revenue funds] or federal dollars as we move forward,” he said.

State Rep. Steven Reick, R-Woodstock, stopped to highlight the rare occurrence he sees of legislators recognizing they don’t know how much taxpayers will be on the hook for new programs.

“I sat here aghast and agog at the fact that someone actually said, ‘hey, how much is this going to cost,’” Reick said. “I’m flabbergasted, I’m thrilled.”

Crespo even had a bill that was cleanup for something subject to appropriation 20 years ago when legislators created an arsonist database for Illinois State Police.

“The program was never promoted statewide, so we never had that and unfortunately the state police needed like a million dollars to implement this and when it did pass 20 years ago, guess what, it was subject to appropriations,” Crespo said.

“Imagine that,” responded state Rep. Patrick Windhorst, R-Metropolis.

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