Mt. Vernon Register-News

State News

March 6, 2013

Quinn to call for more cuts, scrutiny in budget


SPRINGFIELD (AP) — Gov. Pat Quinn is expected to call for additional cuts and more scrutiny of money that's automatically sent to local governments, public transportation and other programs when he presents his proposed budget Wednesday.

The Chicago Democrat's aides said the governor will propose cuts to the more than $2 billion in funds they describe as "on autopilot."

Those fund transfers — for programs ranging from tourism to horse breeding and violence prevention — are set in state statute. Quinn's staff wouldn't say Tuesday how much the governor will ask to cut from those areas, but attempting to change the amount the programs receive is likely to set up a contentious debate among lawmakers already at odds over the state's worst-in-the-nation pension problem.

Quinn is preparing to deliver a proposed state budget that calls for slashing $400 million in education, with the undertone of his planned speech to lawmakers being how their inaction in solving the state's pension crisis is straining all spending.

Quinn is struggling to find good news to deliver to lawmakers, noting that increased revenues will translate into an effort to pay down $2 billion in unpaid bills. His aides also said Tuesday that a tentative contract agreement between the state and its largest employee union will save the state $900 million in health care costs.

The governor has frequently said the first thing he and legislators must take on is the $96.7 billion deficit in the state's five pension systems. On Tuesday, new budget projections showed that trying to catch up with that hole will cost Illinois nearly $7 billion — or 19 percent of the state's general revenue fund. In education, for example, the pension obligation jumped from $4.1 billion in last year's budget to $5 billion, leaving $400 million less for education.

"We have a series of reductions that the governor does not want to do," Quinn's budget chief, Jerry Stermer, told reporters at a budget briefing late Tuesday. "These are outside his vision of where we ought to be. These reductions are a direction result of no action on pensions."

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