SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. PAT QUINN delivered his budget speech last week, and it was another of those confounding efforts of his.
Quinn got favorable marks for concentrating a large portion of the speech on the need for pension reform and how pension costs are still taking up an ever-larger part of the budget, to the detriment of other programs. Some lawmakers didn’t like that Quinn singled them out for failing to pass pension reform and left himself out of the blame game. But still, the focus of the speech was where it needed to be.
At the same time, Quinn didn’t cite a single example where he believed pension costs were strangling the budget. Lawmakers and the media knew from budget briefings that education is taking a $400 million hit in Quinn’s budget and that it is being blamed on rising pension costs. But in the speech — the thing that can be heard by the public — there wasn’t a single mention of the education cuts. In fact, when Quinn did mention budget details, it was to tout things he isn’t cutting, like early childhood education and veterans programs.
Obviously, Joe Lunchbox isn’t sitting around listening to Quinn’s budget speech. But you have to assume that a certain number of city officials, school administrators and others of similar standing may have tuned in to hear what the governor had to say. To that extent, Quinn didn’t say in his speech that general state aid to education is being cut $150 million because the money is needed for pensions or that local governments should get less from the income tax because the money is needed for pensions.
Quinn didn’t have to bury listeners under a pile of dry statistics, but maybe a couple of direct examples would have helped drive home the point.
* At least we were introduced to a new term last week. We now have K-20 education.
That’s how the Quinn administration now refers to the gamut of education from kindergarten through college. Not that anyone around the Statehouse uses that term. Until now, it’s always been K-12, for kindergarten through high school, and higher education for everything after that.
Calling it K-20 education also must presume eight years in college. That’s kind of an “Animal House” schedule for obtaining a degree.
Beyond that, with all of the state cuts to higher education forcing tuition increases, who can afford eight years of college?
* “I think we applauded quite nicely at the end.” Rep. BARBARA FLYNN CURRIE, D-Chicago, on the near total lack of applause during Quinn’s speech.
Page 2 of 2 - * “We use baling wire and bubble gum to hold the whole place together, and I’m now looking at the possibility of Silly Putty.” Comptroller JUDY BAAR TOPINKA on trying to pay all of the state’s bills with little revenue.
* “We heard from the governor’s office, and they were all over the place. They started off low, then they came in with COGFA, and then at the end it was unclear where they were.” Rep. JOHN BRADLEY, D-Marion, on revenue estimates supplied by Quinn’s budget office.
* Quinn last week vetoed a gambling expansion bill that lawmakers had passed in 2011 but never sent to him until January.
The governor had several reasons for his decision, but one was that the bill allowed slot machines at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield. That was bad, Quinn said, because that’s “where families bring their children.”
Yes, children should be kept away from gambling. That’s why children are barred from the fairgrounds on days there’s pari-mutuel betting on harness races at the state fair. Oh wait, they aren’t barred.
Nor are they barred from restaurants where people can legally gamble on video poker machines thanks to a bill Quinn signed into law.
Doug Finke of the State Capitol Bureau can be reached at (217) 788-1527. Follow him at twitter.com/DougFinkeSJR.