Thursday, March 04, 2010

Considering cuts - Part 2

By Jamey Dunn and Rachel Wells

A Senate committee held its second round of hearings today on the impact of possible 10 percent cuts to the budget in the last four months of the current fiscal year.

Senate Democrats have been accused of using the hearings as a political stage to criticize budgets suggestions made by Sen. Bill Brady, a Republican candidate for governor from Bloomington, during the primary election campaign.

Sen. Matt Murphy, a Palatine Republican, said he does get the sense that the hearings are motivated by politics. However, he said he is willing to work with Democrats on cutting the current budget. He echoed a statement that Democrat budget point man Sen. Donne Trotter made yesterday that 10 percent cuts are just a starting point and may not be necessary.

“We’re starting at 10 percent trying to solve this problem. We’ll see where we end up. If there’s a constructive effort at trying to minimize this [fiscal] year’s deficit to make next [fiscal] year’s budget process that much easier, we’re on board,” Murphy said.

State Superintendent Christopher Koch said in his testimony before the committee that he expects more than 13,000 layoffs in K-12 in the next fiscal year even without budget cuts. Those layoffs, he said, would include:

  • Tenured teachers 457
  • Non-tenured teachers 5,826
  • Administrators 505
  • Service employees, such as counselors and social workers 402
  • Non-certified employees 5,194

Koch said those numbers represent the about 75 percent of schools that the numbers could go higher.

He added that cuts at the state level during the current fiscal year will just “pass the burden” off onto local governments that will have to try to increase taxes or borrow to meet their obligations.

Schools have already entered into contracts with employees, so they cannot make any layoffs during this fiscal year. One way or another, they have to make payroll.

The same goes for the Department of Corrections, which employs about 11,000 people to watch over about 46,300 prisoners and 33,000 parolees. “Any time our department attempts to go through a layoff process, it is a long drawn out process that sometimes takes six months to accomplish,” Corrections Director Michael Randle said. “We would have to approach the legislature and tell them the reality of our situation as an agency and seek additional appropriations to cover payroll.”

Trotter, a Chicago Democrat, suggested borrowing as the only solution.

Randle said cuts to food, utilities and education programs would be needed to make payroll.

“What we would be looking at is strictly a lock-and-key operation,” Randle said.

Randle under fire

Brady called for Randle to step down today.

He made the demand at a news conference held to announce a measure he introduced that would create an Internet database with information on any prisoners that are released early. The Web page would include photos and descriptions of the prisoners. Brady’s bill passed through a Senate committee with unanimous support. Brady said he also plans to create a “strike” force to investigate Gov. Pat Quinn's controversial “Meritorious Good Time Push" early-release program.

Brady sputtered when questioned about what sort of early release scenarios he would support and had difficulty giving a concrete example of which prisoners the state would be required to include on the Web site. In the end, he said he does not support the early release of any prisoners.

When asked about the security of his job, Randle said, "I think we all serve at the pleasure of the governor. … We’ll continue to do our job."

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