Lawmakers hesitant to embrace Quinn's budget plan


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Originally Posted Online: March 06, 2013, 12:10 pm
Last Updated: March 06, 2013, 10:36 pm
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SPRINGFIELD – Gov. Pat Quinn presented a budget Wednesday that he called “balanced, honest and
difficult.”

But before he even finished his speech Wednesday, lawmakers were questioning whether it is balanced or honest.

“Gov. Quinn’s budget increases spending for programs we can’t afford and he started with a revenue figure that is unrealistic by most people’s standards,” said state Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton.

The budget calls for spending $35.6 billion in general revenue funds this year – a 5 percent increase over last year. 

Despite the spending increase, portions of the budget are facing cuts because of the ballooning costs of funding pensions. For example, the budget calls for cutting $400 million from classroom education in part because teacher pension costs have gone up $900 million over the previous budget year.

“It’s like the governor is telling us we are all on a lifeboat and there isn’t enough room,” said state Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline. “His answer is to throw a child overboard rather than asking everyone in the boat to put one leg in the water. It’s better that everyone get a little bit wet than for someone to drown.”

Others were less charitable.

“You have to presume that he's being a little disingenuous when he attacks education yet proposes to increase spending to almost all other areas of government,” said state Sen. Jason Barickman, R- Bloomington. “He knows the public is going to resist that the most and he hopes to get consternation from the public.”

Quinn said the General Assembly’s reticence to pass pension reform is harming core government services.

“Without pension reform, within two years, Illinois will be spending more on public pensions than on education … our state cannot continue on this path,” he said.

Quinn labeled this budget the most challenging budget he has ever presented.

“It's a $1.2 billion increase in spending,” said state Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon. “It's about half a billion more than we expect to take in and I don't see why it's the most challenging budget that he's ever had to present since it's the highest revenue we've ever had to spend from.”

State Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, was more diplomatic, saying that the governor’s budget will need considerable work. He added that it is unlikely lawmakers will pass a budget that includes Quinn’s overly optimistic revenue projections.

That means lawmakers will likely need to find at least $500 million more dollars to cut than Quinn is proposing, Mautino said.

Quinn also called for increasing taxes on business by $445 million.

“The more corporate loopholes we suspend, the faster we can pay down our bills,” the governor said. “Why should we give costly, ineffective loopholes to some of the biggest and most profitable corporations on earth, when we have bills to pay?”

But Todd Maisch, a lobbyist for the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, branded the move “a continuation of the policies of the Blagojevich era.”

Changing accounting rules for Illinois corporations like the ones Quinn is proposing will just make the state an even less desirable place to do business, he said.

“State government is desperate for money and unfortunately there is a wrong-headed school of thought that you can target large companies for revenue extraction and it won’t have any negative consequences,” Maisch said.

Not once was Quinn’s 26-minute address interrupted with applause.

“He seemed to present the budget like the Legislature is the enemy of the governor,” said Sen. Jacobs. “I think that is a big mistake.”

Others in the General Assembly expressed concern that not enough details are available to truly analyze the budget. For example, Quinn claims to have extracted health insurance concessions from the major union representing state workers that will result in $900 million in savings.

“I’m not saying I don’t believe those numbers,” Mautino said. “But I want to verify them and we haven’t seen the labor contract yet. So we can’t.”

State Rep. Pat Verschoore, D-Milan, added he, too, is eager to see the labor agreement tentatively reached with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

“Sometimes you just have to take it on faith that someone is telling you the truth,” Rep. Verschoore said. “I have no reason to think he is lying to us. I was kind of surprised that they are getting a pay raise, though.”

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