Quinn's budget speech short on specifics
SPRINGFIELD – As budget addresses go, Gov. Pat Quinn's 27-minute speech to a joint session of the Illinois House and Senate on Wednesday was unusual in that it never mentioned a bottom-line spending figure, nor did it detail spending cuts or increases.
"It was really more like a State of the State speech," said Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet. "It hardly had any budget details."
"He didn't really talk about the budget. It was more of a pep speech," said Sen. Shane Cultra, R-Onarga. "As far as getting to the numbers, he didn't do much of that."
Lawmakers didn't get the governor's speech or a CD of the budget details until minutes before Quinn spoke, so they were mostly in the dark about the various spending increases and cuts.
"I don't know the details. The numbers weren't there," said Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana.
For the record, Quinn's budget calls for $52.7 billion in spending, down from $53.5 billion budgeted for the current fiscal year. Most of the reduction is the result of less money from the federal government.
But all-purpose general fund spending would increase to about $35.4 billion, about $1.5 billion short of anticipated general fund revenue.
"The big problems with this address," said Sen. Dale Righter, R-Charleston, "is that it wasn't filled with specifics and it doesn't propose at all that this state government take on the important issues. There can't be any sacred cows. You've got to be willing to talk about Medicaid spending and education spending and all these other areas that for years here people have said, 'No, no, no. We can't do that.'"
Quinn claimed his budget showed restraint.
"Our commitment to taxpayers is simple: We will only use tax dollars to provide necessary state services. All unnecessary state spending will be eliminated," the governor said.
But even Democrats said that cuts beyond what Quinn suggested Wednesday are needed.
"Perhaps his actual budget has those cuts outlined and he didn't mention them in his speech. But if that's it, there will have to be significantly more cutting to have a balanced budget," said Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign.
"Obviously for someone who is as involved in human services as I am, (budget cuts are) always a concern. But we can't spend more money than we've got," Jakobsson said.
Deeper cuts are needed, she said, "and some of the increases I saw in there are not going to be able to happen."
Rep. Jason Barickman of Champaign said his Republican colleagues are concerned about the governor's insistence on borrowing $8.7 billion to pay off the state's debt.
"I don't think our caucus is universally opposed to borrowing money, but it has to be coupled with significant spending restraints and significant reforms. The governor says that no one has put forward any proposals that significantly alter our state budget, and I think he is wrong. We have suggested significant reforms to the public pension system which is billions of dollars in savings. We've offered pages upon pages of cuts."
Righter also criticized the borrowing plan.
"This backlog of bills was created over the last eight or 10 years," he said. "No one should suggest realistically that you should get rid of that in one day. We do need to get back to a more reasonable payment cycle, and I think we can do that over a short period of time, but not by borrowing more money that we don't know how we're going to repay."
Rose suggested that Quinn's focus on cutting the regional offices of education was misplaced.
"He's in the right chapter but maybe the wrong page. We spend an awful lot of money on the education bureaucracy in this state," Rose said. "But I'll bring one up that doesn't have anything to do with ROEs or consolidation: Why does the Rantoul area have two school superintendents? We don't need that many school superintendents. We have more education bureaucracy than probably any other state in the country. Just look around East Central Illinois."
"We'll work with (Quinn) and see where we get. I would say that the State Board of Education is one big bureaucracy, and in eight years I still haven't figured out what it does. Before they come in with forced consolidations, they should look at the State Board of Education and what that monstrosity does or frankly doesn't do with the millions of dollars it has."
There was targeted praise for Quinn's speech. Frerichs, Rose and Barickman were grateful for his renewed call to eliminate the General Assembly scholarship program. Rep. Chad Hays, R-Catlin, appreciated Quinn's mention of reforming workers compensation. Frerichs thought it was significant that "he talked about the value of higher education" after years of indifference from former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Cultra even complimented his speech.
"He's a likeable guy and he delivered a nice speech. He cares about education and our veterans, and that's great. I like Governor Quinn. He's a nice guy," Cultra said.
"But we need to step back and do more reductions. The problem starts with borrowing and spending more than you did last year. It's a plan for disaster is the way I see it."