Monday, May 30, 2011

Budget headed to Quinn

By Jamey Dunn

Senate Democrats approved the House’s budget proposal today along with a plan to try to push House members to tack additional spending onto the budget bills they have already approved.

The House budget plan that the Senate sent to Gov. Pat Quinn today would cut about $2 billion from the governor's proposed spending levels, according to one of its sponsors, Sen. Dan Kotowski.

However, the Senate also approved $431 million in additional state spending that now awaits a vote in the other chamber. House Bill 2189 (Senate Amendment 1) would restore some education cuts the House made by directing an additional $212 million to the State Board of Education. Kotowski said the bulk of the money, about $151 million, would go to general state aid for K-12 schools, which would be reduced by about 4 percent under the House’s proposal. Kotowski said schools would also see some funding restored for a program to reduce class size and for free and reduced-cost lunches for children. Money also would go back to intervention programs for failing schools. The Houses plan already restored Quinn’s controversial cuts to transportation funding for schools.

The Senate proposal would also funnel some money to human services and Monetary Award Program grants, which Kotowski said the state has already promised many college students. He said the human service programs that would see some funding restored have been proven effective or are vital to the state. Those programs include: addiction treatment and prevention services; meal delivery programs for the elderly; programs to address homelessness; and after school programs. He also said some money had to be returned to implement court-ordered actions. “We’re putting items back in that are truly essential,” said Kotowski, a Park Ridge Democrat. “We’re going to have a balanced budget. It’s going to be fiscally stable, but it’s also going to take care of core services.”

In a strategic move to try to pull House support onto the increased spending, the “restorations” are included in the same bill that lawmakers must approve to continue spending for capital construction projects next fiscal year.

Republicans accused Senate Democrats of holding the construction projects — which are often popular with voters and create jobs throughout the state — hostage to get more spending passed.

“The one thing you did about jobs in the last five years is the capital bill, and you’re jeopardizing funding going forward on that because you can’t say no to more spending,” said Sen. Matt Murphy, a Palatine Republican. He added that the spending levels in the Senate Democrats’ plan would lead to lawmakers voting to make temporary income tax increase permanent in the future.

“Capital [construction] is just as important as addressing the fundamental needs of people when it comes to education and health care and human services.” Kotowski said. “What’s the point of building a building if people can’t go in there and get education? … There is no point.”

So far, Quinn is being coy about whether he will approve the plan. He could also choose to make further cuts with his veto pen. “We continue to review the budget bills passed by the House and Senate. Our focus remains on enacting the most complete and well-planned budget for everyone in our state. We look forward to continued work with the General Assembly to address the serious challenges of stabilizing our budget and creating jobs. The governor has been clear since he proposed the budget in February that while we put our fiscal house in order, we must continue to protect core priorities that will benefit the state now and in the future,” Kelly Kraft, spokesperson for Quinn’s budgeting office, said in a written statement.

One plan that some lawmakers hoped would find the state substantial savings in the future is off the table for now. House leaders announced today that a proposal to reduce pension benefits for current state employees needs more work and will not come up for a vote before the fall veto session.

“We are absolutely committed to reforming Illinois’ public pension system for current employees. It must be done to stabilize our systems and address long-term financial issues for both the public employee pension systems and state government. We believe passage of legislation addressing this issue is essential to the state’s well being. … We will convene meetings over the summer to address the issues and concerns that have been raised and work toward a solution in this year’s Fall Veto Session,” said a joint statement issued by House Minority Leader Tom Cross, House Speaker Michael Madigan and Tyrone Fahner, president of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, which created the plan on which Cross’ proposal was based.

The House budget bills that the Senate approved are:

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