Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Quinn releases budget numbers

By Jamey Dunn

Gov. Pat Quinn’s office spelled out today the shortfall and cuts that could come with next year’s budget.

Quinn put his numbers up on a Web site at noon and is accepting suggestions online from legislators as well as the general public. The move was part of a measure that passed earlier this month allowing Quinn to give his budget speech March 10 instead of February 11.

“This budget, this reality budget, does not show any change in the income tax. So this budget shows what we face with the status quo,” Quinn’s budget director, David Vaught, said.

Quinn is proposing more than $2 billion in cuts. Vaught said such cuts would bring the projected budget deficit for the end of fiscal year 2011 down from $13.5 billion to $11.5 billion.

About $1.5 billion of the proposed cuts would come out of education. According to Vaught, $922 million of that would come from K-12 education funding, and most of the rest would come from higher education.

“If you are going to cut $922 million K through 12, it’s going to affect general state aid. … You just can’t get a big enough number without doing that. I’m an old school board member myself. That’s a tough cut,” Vaught said.

Some Chicago-area schools are considering teacher layoffs. Vaught said there will likely be more layoffs to come. “More and more districts are going to face [the] reality [of layoffs] in a recession,” he said. “The districts have until April first to give their layoff notices. … They’re going to have to tighten their belts and face up to this.”

He said that $500 million in cuts to social services would also be needed and added that cuts to health care spending are more difficult to make because the state receives matching funds from the federal government for its Medicaid spending. “In the past, you have seen health care spending in Illinois go up by about 7 percent a year, and we’re coming in flat. So even though the number looks flat, we’ve really cut spending there,” Vaught said.

Vaught said there are several possible estimations for how much an income tax increase could alleviate the problem. “It depends on what the General Assembly decides to act on. The numbers varied last year. You can get three or four or five billion from an income tax depending on how you structure it.”

Vaught said the intent of releasing these numbers, besides soliciting input, is to show people what the budget would be like without an income tax increase. “These are preliminary numbers to show the reality of the situation that we’re in now. And absent other action, these are the kind of figures that we’re going to have to deal with. I am sure we will hear more from the governor. He’s no shrinking violet on the need for a tax increase,” he said.

While the proposed cuts will upset many throughout the state, Vaught added that he hopes releasing them to the public will result in some real solutions. “What we want people to do, besides feeling the pain and understanding the reality, is to help us find a solution. People can find solutions to these problems if we get some help.”

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