Monday, June 22, 2009

Quinn: Won't cut human service funding in half

By Bethany Jaeger
Without a state budget in place eight days before a new fiscal year starts, Gov. Pat Quinn said in Springfield on Monday that he would not accept a budget proposal that would chop state funding for human services by half, as advanced by Democrats May 31.

“So I want to make that clear to our legislators this week that whatever has been concocted up to now is insufficient, and hopefully we can work together to repair the oversights in revenue,” he said, previewing Tuesday’s special legislative session. “You can’t have a balanced [budget] if you’re short billions of dollars.”

His office estimates an $11.6 billion deficit next fiscal year.

But just how he will work with the legislature to enact a balanced budget before July 1 is a mystery, despite Quinn’s optimism that a few legislators who rejected a temporary income tax increase last month would support it this month “under the circumstances.” If an income tax increase failed again, however, he said he would not support the idea of a so-called month-to-month budget to keep the state operating as long as money remained available.

He did not specify how he would prevent cuts to human services, only that even if the state increased the income tax for two years, Illinois would still have to accept a “no-frills, lean government.” But, he added, “That doesn’t mean that the most important things for the most vulnerable people are left behind.”

Quinn has campaigned since last month for a two-year tax hike to stave off deep budget cuts to human services. He even used Monday’s ceremony to honor Scripps National Spelling Bee contestants to seek support from parents in the audience, whom he asked to “invest in our future, even in hard times.” He’s scheduled to continue his campaign Tuesday morning during what’s expected to be a large rally in the Capitol before the legislative session starts.

But approving an income tax increase any time soon will be difficult, given that Democrats have said they don’t have enough votes without Republican support. And Republicans have said they won’t consider a tax increase without action on Medicaid and pension reforms, which could take months to compile and to gain momentum.

Democrats in both chambers approved a bare bones budget at the end of May, but they have prevented the legislation from going to the governor’s desk (see Senate Bill 1197 for the lump sum spending plan; SB 1433 for authority to sweep excess money from dedicated funds; SB 1609 for authority to refinance state debt).

In a light-hearted plea to legislators, Quinn quizzed national spelling bee contestants by asking them to spell such words as “whistleblower,” “gridlock” and “mudslinging.” He asked one student to spell out “fortitude,” which he later defined as “doing very hard things for the common good, worrying about people above and beyond yourself.”

Also Tuesday, Quinn said he hopes the legislature will take another try to approve a measure that would allow voters to decide whether to change the state Constitution so they could recall elected officials. House Joint Resolution 31 passed the House last month and awaits Senate action. And watch for a new short-term borrowing proposal that could help the state fund most of its $4 billion pension contribution next fiscal year.

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