Quinn's budget cuts will face opposition
SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Pat Quinn's budget for the year beginning July 1 includes dozens of facility closings and consolidations, a pledge to restructure the state's $14 billion Medicaid program and another look at trying to reduce pension costs.
It will require extraordinary cooperation and agreement from the Legislature. And the early signs are not encouraging for the governor.
Among the cuts that Quinn will announce in his budget address at noon Wednesday is the closure of the Dwight Correctional Center, a maximum security prison currently housing about 980 women.
Two Republican lawmakers, whose districts include Dwight and who have pushed for cuts in state spending, immediately condemned the closing.
"This is the typical pattern we have come to expect from this governor," said state Rep. Jason Barickman, R-Champaign. "He doesn't back up his ideas with facts or long-term plans, instead offering an unrealistic plan of closing prisons at a time when those facilities are already overcrowded."
Sen. Shane Cultra, R-Onarga, promised a fight over the proposal.
"They have tried to close Pontiac (prison) twice and now they want Dwight. Shame on them. Do they not think they are absolutely crippling the economy of Livingston County?" Cultra said. "Governor Quinn needs to rest assured of one thing, we are in this fight for the long haul and that's exactly what this is — a fight over families' lives, local economies and our state's public safety."
Also slated to be closed is the 15-year-old "supermax" prison at Tamms in deep southern Illinois, which has a population of 389 and a staff of 300. Six Department of Corrections adult transition centers — in Decatur, Peoria, Carbondale, Aurora and two in Chicago — are on the chopping block, as are juvenile justice facilities in Joliet and Murphysboro.
Mental health facilities in Tinley Park and Rockford would be shuttered under Quinn's budget, as well as developmental centers in Jacksonville and Centralia.
Twenty-four local Department of Human Services offices, including those in Tuscola, Paris, Sullivan and Watseka, are to be closed and consolidated with offices in nearby larger cities.
Even four state highway garages — including one in north Champaign — would be closed.
As stunning as the facility cuts would be — and they likely will lead to complaints from nearly every lawmaker — the $2.7 billion target in unspecified Medicaid cuts will create a much louder uproar.
Quinn, at least according to a budget briefing by his staff Tuesday night, will not offer specific cuts in the health care program for the poor. Legislators will have to share in the work, said Quinn's chief of staff, Jack Lavin.
"We all need to sit down at the table. We know when this happens, all of the advocates are going to be there saying, 'Don't cut me. Don't cut this. Don't cut that,'" Lavin said. "We need to have everybody sit down and have a real look at what we're spending here and what we need to get under control. It's Republicans. It's Democrats. It's everybody working together."
Quinn also has a working group trying to reduce costs in the state's pension programs, which his budget officers say has increased in cost from $1.7 billion in fiscal year 2008 to $5.2 billion in the year beginning July 1. Quinn's budget staff said Tuesday that the governor will not present any specific options for pension cuts.
"What we clearly understand we have to do, through legislation this year, is stabilize the funding so that everybody — the members of the systems, the future retirees, those who are paying in now and those who are concerned about the financial stability of Illinois, including our bondholders — can see that we have stable funding and a roadmap to solvency," said Jerry Stermer, a senior adviser to Quinn.
Not all of the budget news is bad. The University of Illinois system is in line for a budget increase — from $4.18 billion in the current year to $4.29 billion next year. The increase comes in all sources, including state general funds. Eastern Illinois University stands to get a budget increase of $213 million to $218 million, and Illinois State University's budget would grow from $395 million to $410 million.
Quinn also is suggesting a $50 million increase in the MAP student scholarship program and would add $20 million more for early childhood education.
But the overall theme of the budget is austerity with approximately 800 fewer state jobs and some agencies trimmed by as much as 9 percent. The budget makes no mention of new revenue sources, such as a cigarette tax or expanded legalized gaming.
As austere as it sounds, though, the budget proposal is only about $163 million in the black. It calls for general funds revenue of $33.9 billion and spending of $33.7 billion. It would allow for only a small dent in the state's estimated $8.5 billion in unpaid bills.
Hear for yourself
Gov. Quinn's budget address
Noon Wednesday, Illinois State Capitol
Radio: WDWS 1400-AM and WILL 580-AM
Television: WILL Channel 12