SPRINGFIELD — Education takes an approximate 4.6 percent cut and suffers the biggest reduction of any sector in Gov. Pat Quinn's budget to be unveiled today.
Elementary and secondary education plus higher education appear to lose a combined $400 million in operating funds, based on state budget fact sheets released Tuesday night by the Quinn administration.
General state aid to schools would be cut by $150 million, transportation funding would be reduced and money to community colleges and public universities would be slashed, said Quinn's budget director, Jerry Stermer.
Early childhood education and the Monetary Assistance Program — a higher education scholarship program — would not be cut under Quinn's proposed budget.
Greater details of the state's proposed $62.4 billion budget, including $35.6 billion in general revenue funds, are to be presented at noon Wednesday in Quinn's budget address.
The governor's staff blamed the budget cuts on Illinois' unresolved pension crisis, saying that money that could go into program spending instead has to be directed to pension costs.
The administration says that $6 billion — or 19 percent of all general fund appropriations — will have to go to pension costs unless a pension reform bill is enacted.
"Here we have a series of reductions that the governor does not want to do. They are outside of his vision of where we ought to be as a society," Stermer said. "These reductions are a direct result of no action on pension reform."
But legislative reaction to the education cuts is expected to be cool.
Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, whose district includes the University of Illinois and two community colleges, said the proposed cuts reflect "a misplaced priority."
"I don't think we get a better return on investment than money spent on education," he said. "Our colleges and universities train the workers who our businesses hire, and the research they conduct leads to the companies that grow our economy."
The Quinn administration says that education-related retirement costs to the state, including the State Universities Retirement System and the Teachers Retirement System, will take $842 million more from total education spending next year.
For months, lawmakers have appeared deadlocked on various pension reform proposals. There was speculation that until Quinn's budget proposal for the year beginning July 1 was public, legislators wouldn't see the consequences of inaction on the pension issue.
Because of a previous pension reform measure passed in 1994, the retirement costs have ramped upward in recent years and are devouring a larger share of the general funds budget, from 6 percent in 2008 to 19 percent in next year's spending plan. Put another way, the Quinn administration says that total state pension contributions would quadruple from $1.5 billion in fiscal year 2008 to $6 billion in fiscal 2014.
The budget to be released Wednesday proposes no new taxes or fees, administration officials said, nor does it call for any additional facility closures beyond the shuttering of the Murray Developmental Center in southern Illinois that already has been announced.
Quinn's proposal also calls for the maintenance of staffing levels at state prisons and at the Illinois State Police, including three classes of state police cadets and four classes of Corrections Department cadets to replace what the administration said is an "unprecedented" wave of retirements.
The state employee headcount is at less than 50,000 now, down from about 70,000 a decade ago, they said.
The budget also calls for continued progress on the effort to reduce the state's backlog of unpaid bills, now estimated at around $9 billion.
By the end of 2013, the backlog will be down to $7.5 billion, the budget outline says, and will be reduced to $6.8 billion by June 30, 2014.
"He didn't create this mess," Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said of the governor, "but he's been very busy working hard to clean it up. We are making progress. ... By the end of the next fiscal year there will be $2 billion in bills paid down. That's not a small amount."
Anderson said Quinn will propose another method to further pay down the backlog in his budget speech.