Urbana to host state budget summit

Urbana to host state budget summit

SPRINGFIELD – East Central Illinois residents will get an opportunity to offer direct input as the state's next budget is drafted this spring.

Champaign County was chosen as one of the sites for a series of regional bipartisan budget summits that begins early next month, according to a schedule House Speaker Michael J. Madigan, D-Chicago, released on Tuesday.

"The budget is the single most important matter that the General Assembly will deal with this year," said a statement Madigan issued on Tuesday. "We have outlined an ambitious and aggressive schedule for the summits, but the seriousness of the state's financial condition does not allow for delay."

The first summit will be Feb. 5 in Marion. Similar hearings are planned for Rockford, Rock Island, Alton, Grundy County, Decatur, McHenry County, Champaign County, Wheeling, Aurora, Kankakee, Cicero, Northwest Chicago, Chicago's South side, Arlington Heights, Bloomington, DuPage County, Effingham, Elgin, Lake County, Peoria, Park Ridge and Will County.

The Champaign County event is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on March 5 at the Urbana City Council Chambers, 400 S. Vine St, U.

Madigan first announced his plans for regional budget summits at the swearing in of the 94th General Assembly on Jan. 12.

State Sen. Rick Winkel, R-Urbana, called the proposal "an excellent idea."

Madigan said his goals for the forums were to educate people about where the state gets its money and how it is spent; allow citizens to make suggestions about how government can be more efficient; and provide opportunity for testimony about the consequences of recent budget cuts, business tax increases, fee hikes, layoffs and facility closures.

He said the purpose was not to promote statewide tax increases, but to provide an opportunity for more citizen involvement in the budget debate for the year beginning July 1, 2005.

After the most protracted legislative budget battle in Illinois history, the state is facing another difficult budget year, with an estimated shortfall of more than $2 billion, according to Madigan.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich's administration has yet to discuss publicly its own estimate of what the shortfall will be.

"I can say we feel very confident that will fall well below the FY05 level of $2.3 billion," said Becky Carroll, spokeswoman for the Governor's Office of Management and Budget.

The governor will discuss the state's financial condition in more detail and lay out his spending plan in his annual budget address on Feb. 16.

The Blagojevich administration is not opposed to the idea of regional budget summits, Carroll said.

"We're always looking for good ideas to help us address our budget challenges," she said.

You can reach News-Gazette Capitol Bureau Chief Kate Clements at (217) 782-2486 or via e-mail at kclements@news-gazette.com.

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