Politicians respond to Quinn’s budget address

DeWayne Bartels

When Gov. Pat Quinn delivered his State of the State Address, earlier this month, it left legislators and citizens with a desire for more detail about his agenda. The governor delivered his budget address on Wednesday and both groups are still waiting.

Quinn called his address a departure from “budget fantasies” and a “plan for budget stability through major reductions and efficiencies, pension and Medicaid stabilization, fundamental tax reform and jobs and economic growth.”

State Rep. Mike Unes, R-East Peoria, called the governor’s sketchy proposals disappointing. Unes said the address failed to mention the nearly $9 billion in unpaid bills while announcing an increase in spending for fiscal year 2013.

“Quinn says we can’t cling to fantasies, but said during his address that our state has made strides in workers’ compensation reform. That, in itself, is not only a budget fantasy, but also insulting to the intelligences of the residents of Illinois.”

State Sen. David Koehler, D-Peoria, said, “Last year, we saw a bipartisan budgeting process in the Illinois House. Democrats and Republicans worked together and made tough choices. In the Senate, we saw a lot of press conferences, grandstanding, and refusal to compromise. That

can’t happen again this year. We’re all going to have to work together.”

Quinn’s offer

Quinn said his 2013 budget of $24.8 billion, a 3.6 percent decrease, reduces discretionary spending to a point below 2008 levels.

“The truth is that over the past 35 years, too many governors and members of the General Assembly have clung to budget fantasies rather than confronting hard realities, especially when it comes to our pension and Medicaid investments,” Quinn said.

Quinn’s budget proposal calls for most agency budgets to be trimmed at least 9 percent. Quinn cut his office’s budget by 9 percent and asked all constitutional officers to do the same. Quinn also announced plans to reduce the state’s employee head count by more than 700.

Quinn said he will address the state’s pension and Medicaid systems because they put the “greatest financial pressure on Illinois’ budget, and limit the ability to provide core services that people throughout the state depend upon.”

The pension situation is so serious, Quinn said, because for decades the necessary payments were not made, while increased benefits were promised.

“As a result, Illinois’ pension system is now under-funded by $83 billion,” Quinn said.

To address this issue, Quinn said he convened a working group to deliver a proposal by April 17 to repair the state’s pension systems. Quinn said historical funding practices, employer contributions, employee contributions, the retirement age and the cost of living adjustment is ripe for discussion.

Quinn also said his administration has developed a “road map” for Medicaid restructuring. The governor said he would work with the General Assembly to find liability reductions, modernized eligibility standards, utilization controls, rate reduction and reform, acceleration of integrated managed care, and coordination of long-term care programs to manage Medicaid spending.

At the end of this fiscal year, the state will owe $1.9 billion in unpaid Medicaid bills, leaving the governor to propose trimming $2.7 billion in Medicaid finding “to ensure that the state’s Medicaid program can be returned to sustainability and continue delivering essential medical services for those that need them.”

In addition, Quinn:

• Announced plans to realign how Illinois cares for individuals with developmental disabilities and mental illness to improve their quality of life. The Fiscal Year 2013 budget includes funding to ensure smooth transitions and coordinated care as individuals move from institutions to community settings.

• Directed a search of the Illinois Revenue Code for tax loopholes that do not support jobs and economic growth.

• Reiterated his commitment to education, jobs and economic growth by increasing early childhood education funding by $20 million.

Barickman responds

State Rep. Jason Barickman, R-Champaign, said that Quinn “tends to paint these grandiose ideas, but fails to consider all of the facts and consequences.”

“Closing Dwight, the only maximum security women’s facility in the state, is not a well thought out idea when you look at how overcrowded our prison system is,” Barickman said. “A number of the Governor’s proposed facility closures are done in a haphazard manner and have the real possibility of jeopardizing public safety and harming local communities.”

He added that Quinn did a good job of outlining the problems, but offered little on how he will address the problems.

“While schools, social service providers and others are owed billions of dollars in unpaid bills, the Governor did not put forward a realistic plan to pay them. Unfortunately, he proposed new spending and failed to demonstrate the leadership our state needs,” he said.

Barickman did note that the address was only a proposal by Quinn.

 “Its similar to his proposed budget last year, which included facility closures rather than tackling the tough spending issues facing the state,” Barickman said. “At the end of the day, last year’s adopted budget was fundamentally different than was proposed by the Governor, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this year’s budget is a similar outcome.”

Unes responds

Unes took exception with Quinn’s assertion that the people of Illinois have “clung to budget fantasies.”

“How is urging fiscal sanity in our state a fantasy?” Unes said. “We need to address the facts first, which is our state is failing its citizens. Again, we waited today for details on how Gov. Quinn proposes we fix problem areas, yet, we were left without any meaningful details.”

Unes also criticized Quinn’s boast of going back to 2008 levels.

“The bottom line is spending goes up under Quinn’s budget proposal. He keeps talking about 2008, but the last thing we need is to go back to the Blagojevich years of more borrowing and increased spending,” Unes said.

“Uncontrolled spending, coupled with last year’s tax increase and growing unfunded liabilities, are the exact reasons why our state is labeled as an unfriendly business climate. Just last month, Caterpillar Inc. decided to open its new plant outside Illinois, and Caterpillar CEO Doug Oberhelman attributed the state’s unfriendly business practices for its choice.”

He continued, “Gov. Quinn said the people of Illinois have ‘clung to budget fantasies,’ which is completely unfair. How is urging fiscal sanity in our state a fantasy?” asked Unes. “We need to address the facts first, which is our state is failing its citizens. Again, we waited today for details on how Gov. Quinn proposes we fix problem areas, yet, we were left without any meaningful details.”

Starting point

Koehler, who is facing re-election this year, was not a rousing cheerleader of the governor’s address. He simply called the governor’s budget plan a “starting point” for budget negotiations.

“Look, the governor’s plan is always just the starting point for negotiations. It really is important for us to know his priorities and his ideas, but no governor ever gets exactly what he wants,” Koehler said.  

Koehler pointed out that one of the major parts of the governor’s speech is a plan to close 14 major state facilities and dozens of smaller service centers, including a halfway house in Peoria.

“The truth is that this is a tough budget, and we have to at least consider some facility closures. What I want to see is a concrete plan for dealing with any proposed closures,” Koehler said.

“If we’re going to consider closing halfway houses, we can’t just dump criminals back onto the streets. What we have to understand is that the day of just protecting our own districts is over.  We have to look at the whole state.”

GOP speaks

State Rep. David Leitch, R-Peoria, did not pull any punches in his assessment of Quinn’s speech.

“I thought it was a pretty empty vessel. There was very little detail,” Leitch said. “We heard a call to action, but there’s no leadership behind it.”

Leitch said the governor’s proposals are nothing more than talk, and more talk is not needed.

“We don’t need another commission,” Leitch said. “We need details.

Leitch was unprepared to accept Quinn’s proposal.

“He calls for Medicaid reform. We passed $1.5 billion in Medicaid reform and he has been unable to implement it,” Leitch said.

State Sen. Darin LaHood, R-Dunlap, said this budget can make things better or worse, on  Illinois’ future.

“The Democrat-leadership in  Illinois has kicked the can about as far down the road as they can. Now it’s time that we look at where that has gotten us and change course,” LaHood said.

“If you look at other states throughout the Midwest, they have implemented the tough reforms necessary to make their states fiscally healthy, but in the middle of it you have  Illinois  which is in the midst of the biggest financial crisis we’ve ever seen.  Multiple independent agencies and editorial boards have looked at  Illinois and said we need to turn things around. We’ve even been compared to  Greece .”

 According to LaHood, the governor’s budget spends, $550 million more than the approved Fiscal Year 2012 budget.

“This budget doesn’t cut it.  If you look at the numbers, it actually increases spending for the next fiscal year.  It is simply irresponsible. Additionally, the governor didn’t address how he plans to ensure that the 67 percent tax increase passed last January will actually be temporary,” LaHood said. “This year’s budget process is going to be difficult, but it’s my hope that we can all come to the table together and make the necessary reductions in spending to get  Illinois back on track. There’s only so far we can fall, and I’d rather not see where this reckless spending will land us.”

Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka also weighed in on Quinn’s address.

“Taken in totality, today’s budget proposal amounts to a hodgepodge of ideas that are not thought through, and that will do little to address the state’s mountain of unpaid bills. In fact, while the governor proposes saving money by closing prisons and other state facilities, he increases spending on existing programs,” Topinka said.

“He calls for closing tax loopholes even as he offers new tax breaks for certain segments of the population. And while he highlights 9 percent cuts for state offices, he simultaneously increases the budgets of other agencies. Sadly, the numbers don’t add up – and in truth, appropriations from the General Funds are up more than $500 million over the current budget.

She echoed Leitch’s criticism about lack of detail.

“Perhaps, most importantly, the governor failed to provide any specifics for dealing with the state’s biggest budget ‘eaters’: Medicaid and pensions. I appreciate his stated intention of working with the General Assembly to find solutions, but hoped that he would share more of his vision in this budget proposal. At the end of the day, nothing else matters until Illinois deals with those costs.”