Q: Could lawmakers balance the budget by cutting government waste?
A: There’s not enough waste to come anywhere close to filling the deficit. Illinois officials control about $28 billion. (There’s billions more in federal money that flows through state government, but that’s essentially off-limits.) With a hole of roughly $7 billion left to fill, officials would have to slash one dollar in every four — money that pays for schools, prisons, parks, Medicaid and more.
Some of that money may be misspent but not 25 percent of it.
Q: What would happen if all $7 billion had to be cut from the budget?
A: It would depend on how Quinn implements the cuts, what limits lawmakers place on him and to what degree federal regulations prevent certain cuts. For instance, if lawmakers insist on protecting education and federal rules prevent Medicaid cuts — the two biggest chunks of the state budget — then the deeper cuts would be needed in other areas, such as mental health programs, state police and prisons.
Q: Didn’t Illinois go through a budget impasse last year?
A: Yes, and the year before that, too. As the state’s budget problems grow each year, officials find it harder to work together and choose from the unpleasant options available to them.