Friday, April 15, 2011

Cullerton to Republicans: Show us your cuts

By Jamey Dunn

More than $1 billion needs to be cut from Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposal to create a balanced budget, according to Senate President John Cullerton, and Senate Republicans say $5 billion has to be trimmed if the recent state income tax is truly temporary. 

“We believe that the governor’s budget is not balanced. He’s suggested that we spend more money than we have. So this is going to be a difficult process for us to go through and to cut from his proposed budget,” Cullerton said.

Kelly Kraft, a spokeswoman for Quinn’s budget office, said the governor’s budget proposal relies on a borrowing plan to pay off the state’s late bills, as well as a change to the tax code that would bring in some revenue. Kraft said Quinn’s administration considers his proposal to be a balanced budget.

The Senate today approved Illinois’ required pension payment, as well as a payment on the state’s borrowing. The spending equals about S7.8 billion. “So we have $26.5 billion left to appropriate for state government in order to have a balanced budget,” Cullerton said.

In recent years, the state has underfunded the pension system for retired employees or borrowed to make its annual payment. “We have prioritized the pension payments. We’ve said it’s not negotiable. We’re not going to what we did the last two years, where we borrowed the pension payment, Cullerton said.

However, Senate Republicans say lawmakers need to cut about $5 billion from Quinn’s proposed budget to avoid massive future budget deficits and to guarantee that the income tax increase is fazed out as the legislation stipulates.

Cullerton called on Republicans to draft the ideas from their cuts plan into legislation for the Senate to consider when it is back in session next month. “We’re not going to have an omnibus, single up and down vote on a budget. We’re going to do it the way we’ve always done it in the past, up until recent years. And this is in response to many, many legislators who objected to the fact…that [they] had a budget dumped on their desk the last night [with] not enough time to read it.”

Minority Leader Christine Radogno said she thinks legislation that has been negotiated between the two parties before it hits the Senate floor would be much more effective. She said that if Republicans draft all their proposals into bills, Democrats will likely vote them down in a committee, and they will never see a vote from the full chamber. “What are they willing to put 15 votes on?” Radogno asked. While Senate Republicans have not introduced much of their plan as legislation, they have vowed to put up at least half of the votes needed if any of their proposals were to come up for a floor vote.

Cullerton said he is “surprised and disappointed” that Radogno called for what he described as “behind-closed-doors” negations.

However, Radogno said that hammering out budget decisions in a smaller group, such as a committee, would bring more focus and be more productive. “It’s very difficult to negotiate with 59 people. I think a committee structure is a good place to have a discussion. I think that there’s a productive process going on over in the House,” Radogno said. So far, House Speaker Mike Madigan has said that the chamber’s budgeting committees will be directing the spending decisions. She added that she thinks the House is looking at deeper cuts than Senate Democrats, who are working with an estimate for next year’s revenue that is about $1 billion more than the House’s estimate. Culleton played down the difference in the estimates, saying that it could be sorted out during negations between the two chambers.

Cullerton also continued to advocate for a borrowing plan to pay down the state’s backlog of overdue bills. Quinn’s plan calls for the state to borrow $8.75 billion, but Cullerton said the number could likely be smaller, giving a ballpark figure of $6 billion.

Senate Republicans say if lawmakers cut about $5 billion, the state could pay off its bills within 18 months. Some say Illinois is already spending too much on borrowing and point to the amount of money the Senate approved today to spend on borrowing and pensions. “I think this is a cautionary tale going forward. Take a look at Fiscal Year 2012, [the revenue that] we don’t have because of this payment,” said Sen. Matt Murphy, a Palatine Republican.

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