Wednesday, July 16, 2008

More of the same

Most state agencies and services will remain funded at or below the same levels as last year, with slight increases for such items as education, higher education and the legislature’s annual 3.8 percent pay raises. The Illinois House failed today to restore most of the budget cuts that Gov. Rod Blagojevich implemented to balance a lopsided spending plan sent to his desk this summer. And the Senate still doesn’t plan to return to override nearly $480 million of the budget cuts that the House voted to restore this afternoon.

In May, the House and Senate approved a spending plan that exceeded the amount of money the state was projected to generate by about $2 billion, according to the governor’s budget office. So the governor cut $1.4 billion, often striking the increases that legislators sought for everything from alcohol and substance abuse treatment to frontline staff at prisons. But he also scratched entire lines from the budget, including $16 million from a Monetary Award Program for low-income college students.

While the governor’s office said Blagojevich acted “responsibly” to balance the budget, Rep. Gary Hannig, a Litchfield Democrat, called the governor’s method of balancing the budget “unfair” and said the cuts went “too far and were too deep.” Hannig said most Democratic members would have preferred that Blagojevich make more uniform cuts across the board or delay the payment of bills until the next fiscal year.

Minority Leader Tom Cross said the House GOP agreed that some cuts were “too deep,” but he added that they all could have avoided the situation had the House Democrats not approved a state budget that they knew had such a wide spending gap.

“We don’t agree that it’s unbalanced,” Hannig said. “We think it’s up to the governor to manage it.”

A majority of House members, including some Republicans, did vote to restore Medicaid funds that, if cut, would further delay state reimbursements to hospitals and nursing homes that care for Medicaid patients. And they agreed to restore money for such social services as the state Autism Program and centers for independent living arrangements for people with developmental disabilities, but both the Medicaid delays and the human service funding levels are likely to stand because the state Senate still does not plan to return to Springfield to overturn any budget cuts without new revenue sources to pay for them.

“There’s no money to go with it,” said Cindy Davidsmeyer, spokeswoman for Senate President Emil Jones Jr. “They did not pass any revenue.”

The one revenue idea that seemed to gain momentum in the House has now coasted to a stop. Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, a Chicago Democrat in charge of the Human Services Appropriations Committee, said she was trying to cut a deal with House Republicans to transfer extra money from specific dedicated funds to the state’s general fund, which would free up money to reverse some of the budget cuts to human services. That fell through, Feigenholtz said. “But we’re going to keep plugging away at it.”

The House and Senate are scheduled to return to Springfield November 12 for regular session to consider vetoes. House Speaker Michael Madigan closed today’s business by saying, “If the need arises in the interim, I may call the House into session.”

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