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The Daily Register - Harrisburg, IL
  • Quinn budget cuts: bluff or starting point?

  • SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Pat Quinn has threatened doomsday budget scenarios before, most notably saying in 2009 that thousands of state troopers, teachers and other employees would be laid off, hundreds of thousands of people would lose health care, thousands of prison inmates would be released early, and the state fair would be canceled if he didn’t get a tax increase.

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  • SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Pat Quinn has threatened doomsday budget scenarios before, most notably saying in 2009 that thousands of state troopers, teachers and other employees would be laid off, hundreds of thousands of people would lose health care, thousands of prison inmates would be released early, and the state fair would be canceled if he didn’t get a tax increase.
    He didn’t get a tax hike then, and that scenario did not come to pass. So it’s not surprising that some lawmakers think Quinn’s latest plan -- to lay off 2,000 state workers and close seven state facilities, including the Jacksonville Developmental Center and Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln -- will never happen, either. But the House Democrats’ budget expert, Rep. Frank Mautino of Spring Valley, says perhaps they should.
    Mautino agrees with Quinn, a Democrat, that the budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 does not provide enough money to run some departments, such as Corrections and the Department of Human Services, and that the governor has to make cuts to keep government running for the entire year.
    “I wouldn’t say it’s bluffing,” Mautino said. “It’s basically a starting point for discussion.”
    Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville, said a long process remains before any of the cuts or closures happen, including a review and non-binding recommendation by the legislature’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability.
    “He can lay it out … but it’s going to be a process to make that happen,” Sullivan said. “It seems to me like this is an overreaction, a knee-jerk reaction rather than sitting down and thinking this thing through.”
    Asked if Quinn’s plan will actually be the reality come March 31, 2012, when the administration says the last of the facility closures would take place, Sullivan said, “I think that would be hard to do.”
    Quinn budget spokesman Kelly Kraft said Friday the governor is serious – but that he also remains open to discussing options with lawmakers.
    “These actions are real,” Kraft said. “The spending number is what it is, and in order to live within the appropriation levels dictated by the budget passed by the General Assembly, these actions need to take place.”
     
    Every agency cut
    In the budget lawmakers approved, they sliced deeply into the operations lines of the state’s human services agencies, Mautino said. There was a lot of discussion in the House appropriations committee that deals with human services about moving people with developmental disabilities out of state institutions, such as Jacksonville Developmental Center, and into community-based settings, which is what Quinn proposed Thursday.
    “When you go that heavily into what are known as personal services lines, that means you don’t have money for salaries,” Mautino said. “That means that this becomes a possibility.”
    Page 2 of 3 - But Sullivan said he expected retirements, attrition and not filling open positions to take care of most of the reductions in the budget.
    “Every agency had some reductions in their personnel line items. We had nothing in our plan to balance this budget by closing facilities,” he said. The cuts are “a small number, percentage-wise. As early as it is in the budget cycle, he would seem to be able to just do a better job managing the budget.”
     
    Chicago vs. downstate
    At this early stage of discussions, there appear to be several possibilities to avert the cuts, including a supplemental appropriation if the state finds it is taking in more revenue than initially projected,  or re-allocation of existing revenues, Mautino said.
    However, both options present political problems.
    In the House, Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, and Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, have agreed that any revenues that come in above the $33.2 billion spending plan would be used to pay down billions of dollars in overdue bills owed to vendors.
    Giving the governor more to spend would mean Madigan and the Democrats would have to break their agreement with Cross, or Cross and the Republicans would have to agree to go along. Both are unlikely scenarios.
    Quinn suggested Thursday that the legislature simply sustain most of his $376 million in line-item veto reductions of spending in the budget. Lawmakers could then reallocate those funds to avert the $55 million in cuts he outlined this week, $76 million in pay raises for state workers that Quinn canceled that are now the subject of several lawsuits, and $183 million in other unspecified cuts Quinn says he will have to make in the future.
    But Mautino said downstate was particularly hard hit in both Quinn’s line-item vetoes and his proposed cuts on Thursday. All but one of the seven facilities targeted for closure are downstate. It will be hard for the region's lawmakers to sustain Quinn's line-item vetoes and re-allocate those funds because the vetoes were for services that downstate lawmakers believe are vital, such as regional superintendents and school transportation, Mautino said.
    “It hits harder when you’re traveling 300 miles to pick up kids in a school district,” Mautino said of the school transportation cuts. “These are rural districts with a lot more miles (than the Chicago suburbs or the city itself). The impact is deeper.”
    Starting point
    Lawmakers also could give the governor more authority to transfer money among line items and departments, but then they would lose some control over the state’s spending plan. Under current law, the governor can transfer up to 2 percent of a line-item’s spending within an agency’s budget. He cannot transfer money between departments.
    Page 3 of 3 - “It’s way too early to guess the endgame,” Mautino said. “We’ve got a month before any actions can be taken before veto session. There is time to look for the best of several not-good scenarios. It’s (Quinn’s actions) basically starting point for discussion.”
    Chris Wetterich can be reached at (217) 788-1523.
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