Wednesday, July 01, 2009

New fiscal year, same stalemate

By Bethany Jaeger
The first day of fiscal year 2010 is marked by Gov. Pat Quinn vetoing the portion of a state budget approved by the legislature, meaning the state doesn’t have a spending plan in place. And after yesterday’s strange string of events, lawmakers and state service providers wonder how the governor will proceed.

House Speaker Michael Madigan had some advice for the governor: Stop doing 180s on his stances. “I plan to continue to work with the governor in full cooperation. I recognize the problems of state government, but it does not help in this very difficult situation to engage in all these flip flops.”

Most recently, Quinn sought the ability to float pension obligation notes as a short-term borrowing plan to free up about $2.2 billion, which legislative leaders of both political parties agreed would go to human services. The governor congratulated the House yesterday afternoon for approving the short-term borrowing plan in Senate Bill 415, but a few hours later, he called senators asking them not to vote for the plan because he said it would take pressure off of finding more significant revenue sources. Quinn said today outside of his Statehouse office that voting on the borrowing scheme was out of order.

“We didn’t know there was an order,” said Sara Wojcicki, spokeswoman for House Minority Leader Tom Cross. She added: “If there was anything that we were agreeing on in the leaders’ meeting [yesterday morning], it was that we were going to do that [short-term borrowing]. It seemed to be the program.” She also said it’s been hard for the caucuses to gather support or opposition to the governor’s proposals when he keeps changing his mind.

The legislature isn’t scheduled to return until July 14, about the same time the comptroller’s office is supposed to cut checks for the first wave of payroll of state employees. The timing, according to Madigan’s spokesman, reflects a survey of legislative members’ schedules. But Quinn said he hopes they all can find a solution well before then.

But the governor didn’t specify a plan for how that would happen. He just said the next few days are crucial and that he would work hard with legislators and others. “We will not relax in our battle to have a balanced budget in the Land of Lincoln. This is a fight worth fighting for.”

The bill he angrily vetoed, SB 1197, gave him authority to spend about 20 percent of the state budget that is distributed in grants. After funding federally required portions of education and Medicaid to acquire economic stimulus funds, the bill only gave the governor about $3.5 billion of the $10 billion he sought for grants of community-based human services, according to Madigan.

“We only appropriated for the amount of money that we thought would be available,” the speaker said, later adding, “There’s enough money to manage the government under the spending authority contained in the bills that we’ve sent to the governor.”

Madigan also said he would vote to override the governor’s veto, although he said he didn’t know whether his chamber would have enough votes to do so July 14.

Quinn has not addressed other portions of the budget, including various revenue sources. But, he said, “I’m philosophically opposed to trying to balance the budget on just one area of human services in Illinois.”

Even with his veto of the human services portion, however, some providers already have cut programs or laid off employees because the state Department of Human Services told them to prepare for cuts July 1 and more cuts later in the fall. The unpredictable nature of funding is enough to devastate social services that run on shoestring budgets. For instance, in the Southtown Star, columnist Phil Kadner describes the scene in the Chicago suburbs. The Herald & Review outlines cuts being made for Decatur-area services.

Comptroller Dan Hynes said the governor is sending the wrong message, which he said “bordered on irresponsible.” In a statement, Hynes wrote: “He needs to communicate to our social service providers that they need to continue providing services and they will be paid. Instead, he is adding to the hysteria by creating doubt and potentially causing disruption to these essential services.”

Quinn said human service providers should carry on. “I think it’s important that they do their jobs, and I’m hopeful, very hopeful, in a prompt manner, we will get this impasse resolved and get a balanced budget.”

Quinn’s office also issued a warning to state vendors that any bills incurred after today will have to wait for payment. “We have to hold that bill until we get a budget,” Quinn said.

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