Monday, July 06, 2009

Gov. Quinn: Cuts are coming

By Bethany Jaeger
Gov. Pat Quinn is slated to announce layoffs and other government spending cuts in what he said is an effort to cut another $1 billion from the state’s operating budget. He’s scheduled to announce specific cuts in Chicago tomorrow afternoon, one week before the legislature is scheduled to return to Springfield to consider his recent veto of the part of the budget that would fund human services at reduced levels.

After meeting with suburban legislators today, Quinn said public employee unions would be notified this week of unpaid days off and layoffs. He did not specify where the layoffs would take place; however, Republican Rep. Jim Durkin of Western Springs attended the meeting and said the administration outlined 1,000 layoffs from the Illinois Department of Corrections and about 900 layoffs from the Department of Human Services, as well as cuts in grant programs.

One of the largest unions, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, had not received official notice, said Anders Lindall, union spokesman, adding that layoffs are expected without a new flow of revenue into state coffers. “As long as the budget is broken and legislators haven’t passed sufficient revenue, layoffs would be inevitable. Not just layoffs, but damaging cuts to essential human services and public safety.”

Lindall said furlough days or layoffs at state agencies would be tantamount to cutting services, wouldn’t save as much money as needed and could actually cost the state more money in added overtime pay. “Certainly, the thousands of layoffs he’s now talking about would have a profound harmful impact on basic services in DHS, safety in the prisons, DCFS functions and all of the basic services that Illinoisans [rely upon].”

According to Durkin, the governor indicated in the private meeting that he was willing to operate on a temporary state budget until a more permanent solution could be reached. That would counter Quinn’s previous statements that he would not accept a temporary budget.

The governor continues to frame a state income tax increase as the only solution to balancing the budget, which he estimates is $9.2 billion out of balance, but several legislators said they don’t expect a tax hike to win approval next week.

“I don’t think anybody’s mind was changed with today’s meeting,” Durkin said. “And I think that at this point in the year, I just don’t know how you get to 71.” He referred to the 71 votes needed in the House to approve any legislation now that the legislature has gone into overtime session. And cutting thousands of employees from prisons, for instance, won’t win political points with legislators, Durkin added. “I can see where a lot of these jobs are. These are in districts where you might have people who previously were supportive of an income tax increase. You lost ’em.”

Rep. Jack Franks, a Woodstock Democrat who attended today’s meeting, said the governor hasn’t proven to the public that a tax increase is a last resort. Instead of identifying specific spending cuts and negotiating with unions early in the spring, the governor has waited until the new fiscal year this summer to lay the groundwork for a tax hike. “This should have been the very last option on the table. And for him, it was the first and only,” he said.

Franks said his recommendations to the governor have been to cut member initiatives, otherwise known as pork projects, reduce or eliminate the pay of various board members and commissioners, close some state prisons and move to a two-year budget cycle.

Few legislators had high expectations for next week’s special session. “I think next will be a colossal waste of time,” said Rep. Dennis Reboletti, an Elmhurst Republican. “I don’t think any suburban legislators’ mind was changed by this meeting.”

In addition to considering the governor’s veto of the human services budget, the Senate also could reconsider a short-term borrowing scheme that the governor initially proposed but then lobbied against at the last minute — a bone of contention with many lawmakers.

Quinn, however, remains an eternal optimist. He has met with female and suburban legislators and said he plans to meet with groups of legislators from all regions of the state because he believes answering questions, offering suggestions and listening to criticisms has resulted in progress. “I would like to see all of this done by the 16th of this month,” he said.

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