Gov. Pat Quinn started the process of trimming the fat, ordering all state agencies to further cut their budgets by 1 percent and hold the line on travel, equipment, contracts and hiring. Agencies already were operating on a 3 percent reduction under former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. “We have to make sure that state government is lean and cuts costs wherever it can,” Quinn said this afternoon in the Capitol. He estimated savings at “hundreds of millions” of dollars.
But lean state agencies could challenge the state’s ability to compete for federal transportation funds, according the Associated Press. It reported this afternoon that the Federal Highway Administration sent a letter to Quinn to warn that the Illinois Department of Transportation may be too understaffed to carry out major road construction projects.
Quinn said this afternoon that he had not seen the letter but that Illinois would do whatever it takes to ensure the ready-to-go projects are, in fact, ready to go.
After meeting with House Democrats in the Capitol this afternoon, Quinn reiterated his priorities of health care, education, transportation and public safety; however, he also sent the message to legislators to be prepared to take some tough votes, keep their wish lists in check and consider the fiscal context under which decisions will have to be made.
He also set the tone of a more cooperative budget-making process. Democratic Rep. David Miller of Lynwood said his approach is less antagonistic than it was under Blagojevich. “My opinion will be evaluated for its merits,” Miller said. “It will be looked at closely, and if there are ways that I can come up with trying to decrease the cost to the state, streamline efficiencies, then [Quinn will] be very, very open to it.”
But according to Rep. Julie Hamos, an Evanston Democrat, Quinn simply set the stage for some more belt-tightening and reforms. “We don’t know exactly what that means. Are we cutting programs, or are we raising taxes? He didn’t get specific, but he did talk about being very realistic this year and the tough choices facing us.”
She said the effort to build uniform understanding of the dire fiscal straights — a nearly $9 billion deficit next fiscal year — is necessary. “If we are going to take the very difficult leap to raise taxes, we are all going to have to be on the same team. And we’re going to have to sell it to the people.”
Other than watching for proposals to reform the state’s tax structure, also watch for alternative borrowing schemes. We’ll have more on that in the near future.