SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois House on Thursday approved a budget outline that calls for deeper, across-the-board cuts in spending for the year beginning July 1 than were originally proposed.
The budget plan, which lacks details and was passed as a resolution (HR706), calls for spending about $900 million less than this year and directing as much as $1.7 billion to the state's $8 billion backlog of bills. It includes, however, full funding for the $7.5 billion line item for state pensions.
The bipartisan plan, negotiated by House Speaker Michael Madigan, Minority Leader Tom Cross and the leaders of the chambers five different appropriations committees, was approved 91-16. But three area Republicans — Reps. Jason Barickman, R-Champaign; Adam Brown, R-Decatur; and Bill Mitchell, R-Decatur — voted against it, saying that Medicaid cuts should have been deeper. Reps. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, and Chad Hays, R-Catlin, voted for the resolution. Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, was absent.
"The resolution painted a facade as far as I'm concerned. You take a look at our welfare system and I believe we can cut tremendously more than $2.7 billion with initiatives that we've already outlined," Brown said. "We've got them sitting in committee, ready to go, things like photos IDs for Link cards, eligibility for All-Kids programs with 80 percent going to the children of illegal immigrants. If we're going to take an honest look at cuts, we should look at these bills first. I think welfare is a bloated program that has expanded almost two-fold over the past 10 years."
Barickman said he was concerned that the resolution "made assumptions about cuts that there is no basis for. I hope that we can come to an agreement on very significant cuts ... but we've not seen them to date, and I don't think it's fair today to base our forward-looking budget on presumptions that these cuts are suddenly going to occur."
He said about $1.5 billion in potential Medicaid cuts were ignored last year.
But Hays said he believes there is a genuine bipartisan consensus to make the cuts and direct more money toward paying off the backlog of debts.
"I haven't had a single constituent say, 'Chad, what we're really looking for from you is to go over and be obstinate and not part of the process,'" he said. "People in my district, whether they're Republican or Democrat, they want this fixed. The time passed a long time ago for continuing to do business as usual. This is a budget that will get us a significant start on paying down a backlog of bills."
He said that "House Republicans are making the difference here because we are driving this discussion. You heard the floor debate. There are many on the other side who just don't have it in them to do what has to be done."
Several Chicago area lawmakers, in fact, decried the Medicaid and human services cuts, and suggested that borrowing and an extension of last year's income tax increase also should be considered.
"For those who don't want additional revenue, I don't know if they don't care about the cuts that are going to be made," said Rep. Will Davis, D-East Hazel Crest. "I just want those in my committee to know that they're not going to like what's going to come out of my committee."
Rep. Rosemary Mulligan, R-Park Ridge, said "I've been at this for over 20 years and this is the worst process I've ever seen."
Rep. Patty Bellock, R-Westmont, said the options facing lawmakers were distasteful, include eliminating optional services such as hospice care, podiatry care, adult pharmaceuticals and adult dental services.
"All of those are on the table. We do not want to have to make those Draconian cuts," she said. "What we're trying to do here is pay some of the bills and have enough money to have those providers get paid. You now have doctors and hospitals delayed by 180 to 300 days. If we go to next year and we don't get these cuts and pay off some of those bills, we're gong to be at $5.4 billion in Medicaid bills."
But while some lawmakers bemoaned the cuts, others said they were an indication that lawmakers are serious about repairing the state's woeful ledger book.
"This sends a very strong signal to the people who have lost hope in this state government. They have no belief that we can do the right thing," said Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Edwardsville. "This is a giant step in my opinion. It is a business step, not a government step, that we need to take."
Cross, the leader of House Republicans, called it "a very good first step. It is the first time in a long time that we'll be spending less than we took in."