Friday, April 01, 2011

Quinn fires back on budget

By Jamey Dunn

Gov. Pat Quinn said today that he supports a budgeting process driven by legislators; however, he said he would not sign off on big cuts to some of the largest areas of state spending.

After his budget proposal took a beating from lawmakers in Springfield this week, Quinn shared some of his opinions with reporters in Chicago today.

He responded to House Speaker Michael Madigan’s statement earlier this week that the governor had asked for the legislature to send him a lump sum budget, as they have the last two years, and allow him to make the tough choices. Madigan said he told Quinn that he didn’t think lawmakers would go for that plan again this year.

“I really didn’t ask for it,” Quinn said.

He said he asked Democratic legislative leaders if it was their “intention” to conduct the budgeting process that way again this year.

“I said, 'if you guys want to do that, that’s the will of the legislature — the members— then we’ll take it on and do it in the third year, the way we have in the first two.'  But I didn’t say they should do that. I actually like the fact that the legislators are line-item by line-item going through the budget. My first two years, I was told they didn’t want to do that. They didn’t want to make cuts,” he said.

Quinn said if lawmakers have budget proposals this year he would be “happy to look at those.” However, he seems to be a long way from getting on board with the House’s lean budget proposal , which calls for cuts to education and human services. “Severe radical cuts in education and in decent health care and in human services and public safety, I’m not going along with that. I think it’s very important that we maintain the core priorities of Illinois. And we’re not losing a generation of children and their education, and we’re not going to take away health care from people who have nothing at all. We have to make sure we have a decent society.”

Madigan shot down Quinn’s proposal to borrow $8.75 billion dollars to quickly pay off the state’s backlog of bills. The borrowing would be repaid over 14 years. The speaker said that lawmakers have little interest in passing the bill. Instead, the House plan currently calls for paying off overdue bills with any money that might come in that exceeds the chambers “conservative” revenue projection for fiscal year 2012.

Quinn did not waver from his plan. “The money is already owed. We already owe the money. It’s not like we’re borrowing new money," he said. "I haven’t given up on that. Ultimately, it’s got to happen. We cannot tolerate a situation where good businesses in Illinois are having to wait half a year, six months, to get paid on bills that they have provided services for. …We can’t just keep pushing forward $8 billion worth of debt.” Quinn’s estimate of the state’s unpaid bills also includes costs besides those owed to schools, socials service providers and vendors, such as late income tax refunds for corporations and money owed to the state’s employee health care system.

He called on lawmakers to quickly approve a smaller borrowing plan of about $2 billion, which he says would allow the state to capture about $200 million in federal funds under an elevated Medicaid matching rate that expires in June. Some of the money would also go to the employee health care system, which was under funded for the current fiscal year. “Everyone in Springfield, Democrats and Republicans, they can beat their breasts all they want about restructuring debt. The bottom line is: if we’re going to sacrifice and give up almost a quarter billion dollars, that’s foolhardy; that’s not the way to go. … At least [on] the [Medicaid], let’s get going and get the job done.”

Quinn said he plans to roll out a workers’ compensation reform package next week. He said he has been talking to legislative leaders and is trying to work out a proposal that would have bipartisan support in both chambers.
He said, "We're going to past this, this year."

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