Monday, February 04, 2013

House panel approves new spending for current fiscal year

Jamey Dunn

Layoffs at the Department of Children and Family Services and cuts to mental health providers would be avoided if a measure approved by a House committee today makes it to the governor’s desk.

House Bill 190 would spend about $53 million in general revenue funds during the current fiscal year. The money would come from Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget vetoes and revenues that exceeded estimates used to plan the budget lawmakers passed in the spring. “There may be as much as $58 million [in additional funds],” said Chicago Democratic Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, who sponsors the bill.

The proposal contains $25 million for the Department of Children and Family Services. The money would help take the sting out of a $90 million cut that lawmakers approved in the spring and would allow DCFS to avoid laying off thousands of workers. When Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed money for correctional facilities that his administration has since closed or is in the process of closing, he called on lawmakers to redirect the money into DCFS. Quinn supports HB 190. The measure also contains $12 million for mental health care providers. Legislators who worked on the human services budget in the spring say they intended for providers to get the money, but the funds were not available because of a budgeting error. “We’re strongly committed to this appropriation amount,” said Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, the former chair of the human services budgeting committee in the House.

HB 190 also includes $675 million for capital construction projects. Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider said the state got more federal money than expected, and revenues were higher than IDOT projected when planning its budget. “We normally put that financial plan for our highway program together about 18 months in advance, and so revenues in Fiscal Year '12 came in higher than what we programmed on.” Rep. Louis Arroyo, chairman of the public safety budgeting committee in the House, said he was unhappy that money would be pulled from the road fund. “When we sit down in my committee, nobody wants to touch the road fund, nobody wants to talk about the road fund. It’s like a sacred cow. ... So now you’re saying there’s extra money there. I didn’t know there was extra money there. There a lot of avenues that I would like to spend that road fund money on or move it over to different avenues rather than take it for this project.” He said he was uncertain about the “last minute ... funding resources that are popping up somewhere” to support the supplemental appropriation.

The measure also contains $620 million for the group health program for state employees. Currie said that in the spring, lawmakers had only appropriated for half of the cost of the program because they hoped Quinn’s administration could achieve savings through negotiations with union leaders over a new contract for state workers. But an agreement has not been reached on a contract, and Currie said it is time to put the rest of the money into health care coverage so payments to providers are not further delayed. She said that health care providers are currently waiting up to a year to be paid for treating state workers. “That really is about half of what we expected to spend. We held it back because we were hopeful that there might be savings in the group health program. They haven’t materialized. We think it’s important to go ahead and pay the bill.”


No comments: