Closing down prisons. Laying off 12 hundred state employees and cutting back the remaining workforce’s retirement benefits. Paying for fewer medical services for the poor. They’re all possibilities under the budget plan Governor Pat Quinn submitted today. The Governor was clear the legislature will have tough choices to make in coming months. Amanda Vinicky has the story.
After years of clinging to budget fantasies … Illinois “rendezvous with reality” has arrived. That’s how Governor Pat Quinn began his budget address.
QUINN: “This budget contains truths that may not be what you want to hear. But these are truths that you do need to know.”
The main truth he says is … that Illinois has to cut its expenses.
Quinn proceeded to lay out a plan that does so by asking most state agencies and offices … including his own … to slash their budgets by nine percent.
Much of that would come from closing down more than five dozen state facilities and offices, spread out all across the state.
Among the big ones: the Tamms super max prison in deep southern Illinois, and the women’s correctional center in Dwight.
He’s also expanding his push to close institutions like developmental centers and mental hospitals.
Altogether the closures would amount to relatively marginal savings of 100 million dollars, considering his overall plan calls for spending nearly 34 billion.
Quinn and other state leaders agree … they must tackle two other areas to achieve real savings … mounting Medicaid and pension costs that continue to consume more of the state’s scarce dollars.
QUINN: “And we must do it now. It is imperative to get the job done this year for our state to move forward.”
But the governor gave no specifics about what SHOULD be done. He expects working groups of lawmakers to find solutions on those complex issues this spring.
CROSS: “He said they’re all on the table, but what’s he want?”
That’s House Republican Leader Tom Cross, who says if Quinn wants action taken, it’s high time he took a stance.
CROSS: “So tell us what you want, tell us what you like, tell us what you want to pass, be the Governor and introduce some legislation and we’ll work off it.”
Republicans are also critical on another point. Despite the closures and cuts, the GOP says Quinn’s proposal actually increases spending over last year.
The governor wants to give schools and universities more money. He also favors putting more money into what has long been a main concern of his… programs for veteran’s. And he advocates a new, 3 billion dollar construction program that would pay for sewer upgrades, building upgrades on college campuses, and high-tech classrooms.
Education and veterans may be worthy causes, but Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno says not now. Not until pensions and Medicaid are fixed. And until Illinois has paid off its backlog of overdue bills.
RADOGNO: “We cannot increase sp[ending. Period. The end. Right now. We just can’t do it.”
But for every legislator that calls for no more spending … there’s one who’s upset about a beloved project, facility or program that could get the axe. There are complaints giving less money to after school programs will put kids on the street … doctors complain the state already pays them too little for taking care of Medicaid patients and lower rates will lead hospitals to close. And businesses say they’re discouraged by Quinn’s talk of closing tax breaks, which they say are job creators.
Democratic Senator Jeff Schoenberg says those budget decisions will inevitably mean making tough choices.
SCHOENBERG: “And we’ll see what the appetite is that people have to do that with an election looming in 2012.”
Legislators chuckled when Quinn, in his opening remarks, gave them this vote of confidence:
QUINN: “And I believe you can handle the truth.”
But after he laid out the difficult path ahead, the question is … can they? Can he? And can voters?