Thursday, March 10, 2011

Quinn backs off human services cuts

By Jamey Dunn

As Gov. Pat Quinn pulls back on proposed budget reductions for this fiscal year, Senate Republicans say an additional $4 billion to $6 billion in cuts to next year’s budget are needed to avoid future deficits.

Quinn all but abandoned proposed cuts to human services for the current fiscal year. Addiction treatment providers began to publicly push back in late February after they say they received word that Quinn planned to cut human services by $208 million in Fiscal Year 2011 — with substance abuse programs bearing the brunt of the cut. After addiction treatment providers across the state said they would have to stop taking patients, the governor’s office rolled the number of potential cuts back to about $100 million. Today, Quinn’s budget office confirmed that the governor plans to use $43 million from a lump-sum line item, which has yet to be allocated, to stave off all but $7 million of the cuts.

“This was one hurdle that we needed to get through to survive,” said Sara Moscato Howe, chief executive officer of the Illinois Alcohol and Drug and Dependence Association. She said treatment providers would likely be able to start taking in new patients soon. The governor’s budget proposal for next fiscal year calls for deep cuts to substance abuse programs. However, Mascato Howe said her organization has been told that Quinn’s administration is reviewing the budget and looking for ways to prevent the “decimation” of addiction services. “Which is certainly good news,” she said.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are calling for billions more in cuts from Quinn's proposed budget for the next fiscal year but so far have suggested few specific areas that could be trimmed. While Quinn says his budget for fiscal year 2012 would make about $1 billion in cuts from the current fiscal year, Republicans say it will take much more to get Illinois’ budget in line. Without the additional $4 billion to $6 billion reduction, they say the annual deficit could be as much as $8 billion in five years. To come to that figure, Republicans are assuming Quinn will propose to spend as much as he can under the spending caps put in place as part of the recent income tax increase. Quinn proposed spending less than the cap in his plan for FY 2012. “Let’s be honest, he may say he’s spending under the cap this yea,r but his track record doesn’t suggest he spends less than he can,” Sen. Matt Murphy, a Republican from Palatine, said of Quinn.

Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont said the recent income tax increase alone will not solve Illinois’ budget crisis. Although she said she is still open to some form of borrowing to pay down the state’s backlog of overdue bills, she is not willing to support any plan until substantial cuts are considered. Radogno said Senate Republicans would present their ideas for budget reductions next week. She added that members of her party would be willing to cast votes for unpopular cuts today to prevent future fiscal disaster. “It’s not all fat and waste. It’s not easy. Some of it’s fat and waste. Some of it’s going to hurt a little bit. … If you do something hard today, there is a reward that far outweighs the short-term pain,” Murphy said.

Quinn’s office responded to the Republicans claims with a written statement: “The time for Senate Republicans to begin looking for cuts has long since passed. …. Governor Quinn has been asking Republicans for input and specific suggestions on ways we can reduce government spending for more than two years. And when cuts have been made in Republican districts, we have heard loud complaints about even the most common sense cutbacks.”

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