Mt. Vernon Register-News

June 15, 2009

Quinn: Proposed budget means cutting $9.2 billion


SPRINGFIELD (AP) — Gov. Pat Quinn’s office said Monday that it would have to slash spending by $9.2 billion under a budget proposed by Illinois lawmakers, warning that most cuts would fall on state-funded groups that provide local services.

Nearly 200,000 senior citizens getting help with the cost of medicine would have to be cut loose, and organizations that watch over children in foster care would see their caseloads triple, said Quinn’s chief of staff, Jerome Stermer.

He estimated that 100,000 people who provide such services would lose their jobs, and thousands more would be laid off from positions within state government .

“We would be looking at thousands of layoffs” within state government, Stermer said. He claimed state parks, prisons and other facilities could close under the budget proposal.

Stermer’s comments marked the administration’s most detailed analysis since lawmakers passed a patchwork budget late last month after failing to agree on new sources of revenue. Quinn and legislative leaders are searching for alternative plan, but so far they’ve come up empty.

Quinn said lawmakers will soon be coming back to Springfield to address the problem, although he stopped short of threatening to call a special session to force them to return.

“I think we’re going to make it clear to the leaders that you don’t go home on summer vacation until you get all your homework, all your tests, all your term papers done,” the Democrat said.

Illinois government faces its worst budget deficit in history — at least $11.6 billion.

Quinn proposed closing that gap with a combination of spending cuts, budget maneuvers and tax increases. Lawmakers wouldn’t agree to most of his ideas and instead passed a budget that didn’t include enough money to cover costs, leaving it to him to decide where to cut spending.

Lawmakers sarcastically described it as a “lights on” budget — meaning it would provide enough money for agencies to keep the lights on but nothing more. They said Quinn would have to cut spending by roughly $7 billion.

But Quinn’s office said lawmakers left a hole of $9.2 billion. That amounts to nearly one-third of all the money that’s directly under state government’s control and not subject to federal restrictions. The current budget totals $67 billion, according to a report from the General Assembly, but most of that is federal money the state doesn’t really control or spending authority for long-term construction projects.

Legislators voted to protect education money, further limiting how the deficit could be closed.

Stermer said the “half-baked partial budget” would require that most cuts come from money the state pays to local organizations.

Eliminating the Illinois CaresRx drug program, for instance, would affect 196,000 senior citizens and save the state $140 million, he said. Cutting 142,000 poor families out of subsidized child-care would save $271 million but also cost the state up to $174 million in federal aid.

The Department of Children and Family Services would lose $450 million — nearly half its budget, Stermer said. The caseload for each person overseeing children in foster care, a job largely done by private groups, would jump from 15 to 50.

He rejected some lawmakers’ accusations that Quinn is resorting to scare tactics and painting an unrealistically grim picture of what will happen without a better budget.

“I can assure you that this is not about scare tactics. It is about a careful analysis of the dramatic shortfall in revenues that can be resolved if we all come to the table,” Stermer said.

While promising that government will streamline its operations and cut unnecessary spending, Stermer warned that it’s impossible to eliminate the deficit simply by hacking away at state government.

“Even a total elimination of all state workers wouldn’t get to half of what our deficit is,” he said.