Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Change is inevitable

Illinois' budget deficit looks worse, but the cooperation and transparency within state government looks better.

Gov. Pat Quinn has said in the past and confirmed again today that the state’s budget deficit could exceed the previously projected $9 billion next fiscal year. And the federal stimulus funds won’t come close to helping the state close the gap between the amount the state spends versus the amount the state collects in revenue. Jack Lavin, the governor’s chief operating officer, said last week that the current projection is that stimulus funds could help knock off $2 billion of the deficit. That means a lot more changes are in order, and those changes could be painful.

The Senate is gearing up for a series of public hearings to discuss where to cut and how to bring in more revenue. Senate President John Cullerton and Minority Leader Christine Radogno are setting up a special committee, with an even number of Democrats and Republicans, to talk about where to scrutinize spending, including public employee pension systems, health and human services, education and state government operations. The committee is slated to produce a report with potential recommendations by March 25, one week after Quinn proposes his first state budget to the General Assembly.

While Cullerton said everything is on the table, he previously said that there wasn’t much room to cut from state employee payroll and that he couldn’t imagine cutting health care programs when so many people already lack health insurance. Republicans could have a completely different approach. So the creation of this new bipartisan committee gives Democrats and Republicans equal credit — or blame — for the product. It also means Republicans can’t sit back and say it’s a Democratic-controlled plan to which they can only voice opposition. Now they have to come up with some ideas, too.

Word of the day = transparency
Quinn also initiated another effort to change the climate within executive agencies and offices. Consistent with last week’s recommendations of public access advocates, including Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Quinn urged agency directors to err on the side of disclosure. “The people of Illinois demand an open, honest and transparent government,” Quinn said in a statement. “State government must take all steps necessary to make information as accessible as possible.”

In his memo to agency directors, he said, “No decision to withhold information sought [through the Freedom of Information Act] shall be made to avoid embarrassment or for any speculative or other improper purpose.”

Quinn also required that each agency submit a report within 45 days detailing the type of information that could be available online.

State parks to reopen
Quinn also will announce Thursday morning at the Springfield State Fairgrounds that the state will reopen seven state parks previously shut by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

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