Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Senate considers cuts to this year's budget

By Jamey Dunn

The Illinois Senate is weighing 10 percent budget cuts for the last quarter of the fiscal year.

A Senate committee is taking testimony from agencies about the possible impact of such cuts to their budgets during the remainder of this fiscal year.

“We know that we’re going into [fiscal year] 2011 with [a] $13 [billion] to some people’s estimate up to $14 billion [deficit], so we need to cut that down now, if we can. And this is what these committee meetings are for,” Sen. Donne Trotter

While Democrats say they are serious about the cuts, Republicans say they are playing political games.

Sen. Bill Brady, a Republican candidate for governor from Bloomington, put forth the idea of 10 percent across-the-board budget cuts during his primary campaign, and many say that Democrats are holding these hearings to take shots at his proposal. But Trotter insists the hearings are not just for political show.

“[The cuts] are real, but we may not be cutting it 10 percent - maybe it’s 5 percent … heaven forbid it’s 15 percent. But we don’t know until we have at least this dialogue with these agencies that will be impacted,” he said.

Committee chairman Sen. John Sullivan, a Democrat, said that no one Republican is being targeted, but the hearings are meant to display the impact of some Republican proposals, for better or worse.

“We’re not trying to put anybody on the hot seat,” Sullivan said. “Some individuals here in the General Assembly have said we need cuts — no new revenues — we need cuts. What we’re trying to do is let the public know and let members of the General Assembly know what the consequences of those cuts are.”

Sullivan said after the hearing that Brady would be welcome to testify before the committee. Brady said he might consider the offer but added that he had already laid out his budget plan.

“I am a candidate for governor. I am going to be the next governor of the state of Illinois. I welcome their test and their challenge. I am going to rise above it and provide the people of Illinois with a budget they can count on - provide the tax cuts they need to create business investment in our state,” he said.

University of Illinois President Stanley Ikenberry and Southern Illinois University President Glenn Poshard testified before the committee today on the possible impact of such cuts on higher education.

“There are many agencies that you will hear from that will be talking about the impact in terms of broken lives. … I think for higher education, it's better to think about it in terms of broken futures,” Ikenberry said.

Both said the proposed $76 million in cuts to Illinois public universities would mean mass layoffs in their university systems. “Such a drastic and immediate reduction in the current fiscal year would require the immediate layoff of 15 percent of our workforce for the remaining four months of the fiscal year. It is not practical prudent or possible to take such and action,” Poshard said.

Sen. Matt Murphy asked the two men if they would consider a deal that would guarantee their schools the money they are owed, with a 10 percent reduction.

“It is not acceptable for me to take a 10 percent deal right now and run with it,” Poshard said to Murphy. “You folks passed legislation that guaranteed us a certain amount of appropriation, upon which we built our budget. We depended upon that. We gave a promise to thousands of students based upon that promise to us from the state legislature and the governor.”

The committee is scheduled to take more testimony from agency representatives tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. Check back for details.


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