Legislators greet Quinn plan with skepticism
SPRINGFIELD — Many East Central Illinois legislators voiced skepticism that Gov. Pat Quinn would follow through with the severe budget cuts he proposed in Wednesday's budget address.
Quinn not only proposed closing dozens of state facilities, including prisons in Dwight and Tamms, but he said that the Legislature needed to act on multibillion-dollar reforms in the state Medicaid program and in government pensions.
"We must navigate our budget out of past decades of poor fiscal management, deferring bills to the future and empty promises," he said. "We must achieve fundamental and lasting budget reform. And we must do it now."
The response from the hundreds seated in the House chamber was silence.
"I've been to 10 budget addresses now, and this is the first one that had no applause," said Sen. Shane Cultra, R-Onarga. "He was talking Republican ideas. I don't think it played too well to his base.
"But the thing is, will he do it? In the past he's talked about doing some things, but he'd never followed through. I don't think this will be any different."
Rep. Chad Hays, R-Catlin, called the budget speech "a dose of reality."
"I certainly look forward to holding him to his word. It really is my hope that the governor follows through on what he said today," Hays said.
He said Illinois citizens "understand what we have to do and they're ready for it. In a kind of a strange way, it gives the governor license to lead and I hope he does so."
But Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, criticized Quinn for failing to lead.
"This certainly isn't a budget that rectifies the problems. It gives a lot of lip service without any meaningful leadership. We need a governor who is willing to lead, not just dish it off on the Legislature," said Brady, who was defeated by Quinn in the 2010 gubernatorial election.
Rep. Jason Barickman, R-Champaign, expressed similar sentiments.
"This address is an opportunity for him to provide some leadership and to put forward his ideas for what those actual reforms are. And on the big issues we saw very few specifics," Barickman said.
Even Democratic Rep. Naomi Jakobsson of Urbana said the lack of specifics was "disappointing."
"I thought we were going to get some specifics from the governor. But I think having a little more direction might have been good," she said. "He's been saying that he had all these great ideas and these big plans, and it was disappointing not to see them."
But there was some praise, perhaps muted, for the governor.
"Finally there is some recognition from Chicago that there's a problem," Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said. "I am willing to work with them. I think on both of those issues (Medicaid and pensions) we'll have substantial progress this spring."
Rose said he was prepared to work overtime to resolve the financial problems.
"I thought his warning about staying here all summer, great. I've been saying that for years. I said years ago that we should have cut everything 5 percent," Rose said.
Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, didn't mind that the governor failed to suggest specific cuts.
"I think that's how it should be. The Legislature should be involved," he said. "I think the governor's speech lacked a lot of specifics, but he's willing to work with the Legislature.
"It's the Legislature's responsibility to see that we minimize the impact of those cuts."
Refraining from naming names, Frerichs criticized legislators who call for budget cuts but complain when the cuts come in their districts.
"I find it awfully hypocritical that some of my colleagues who have been traveling around their districts calling on the governor to make $7 billion in cuts are now some of the people who are crying the loudest about cuts in their district. They apparently want cuts, but cuts for you, not me. That is unfair and irresponsible," he said.
Some details of Quinn's budget proposal became clearer Wednesday as more supporting documents were released. A proposed budget increase for the University of Illinois, for example, is not as large as first appeared. Last year's UI budget failed to include more than $15 million in funding for the Prairie Research Institute scientific surveys. That money is included in this year's budget, making it appear that the UI is getting $15 million more.
Also, the governor's budget includes full funding for regional offices of education — a program he tried to eliminate last year — but the $2.7 million line item comes out of the personal property tax replacement fund, and the Legislature would have to approve that initiative.
No new revenue proposals were included in the budget plan, but Quinn said he has asked his Revenue Department director to meet with legislative leaders to identify and eliminate unnecessary tax loopholes.
"Part of the loophole revenue can be used to provide targeted tax relief for hard-working families and businesses across Illinois," he said.
Nor was there any mention of expanded gaming — and the estimated $1 billion in new revenue it might yield — although Hays said discussions continue and "I remain hopeful that we can come to an agreement that we can vote on by the end of the spring."
Finally, while Quinn's budget cuts many departments and offices by 9 percent (including his and the lieutenant governor's), he trims the Legislature's appropriation by 11.5 percent — a $6.59 million reduction from the redistricting line items now that that process has been completed.