Thursday, February 07, 2013

Quinn signs spending bill

By Jamey Dunn

Gov. Pat Quinn signed a spending bill today that will avert layoffs in the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and restore funding to mental health providers. But opponents said it is too costly and was rushed through the legislative process.

The Senate approved House Bill 190 today. The measure contains about $1.5 billion in spending. The Department of Children and Family Services will get $25 million. Without the money, DCFS says it would have to lay off two-thirds of its staff. The measure also restores $12 million that lawmakers said was supposed to go to mental health services but did not because of a budgeting error. “As a result of today’s action, hard-working employees at the Department of Children and Family Services will continue their critical work of protecting vulnerable children who have been abused and neglected,” Gov. Pat Quinn said in a prepared statement.

The law also calls for more than $700 million in capital construction funds for roads, bridges schools and other projects. Republicans were critical of some of that spending, calling it “pork.” They said that Democrats moved the bill through both legislative chambers too quickly. The House approved the measure on Tuesday. “One of the things we see around here on occasions is, when we rush ourselves, mistakes get made, and I think this is a classic example of that occurring. There are some pieces in here in this package that I think everybody in this chamber can support. But when we rush through ... we see mistakes made,” said Palatine Republican Sen. Matt Murphy. Republicans were also upset that money was taken from the Road Fund for costs other than construction, such as employee health insurance.

But sponsor Sen. Dan Kotowski, an Oak Park Democrat, said some of the funding, such as the money for DCFS, could not wait. He said lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been meeting about the issue. “These discussions have been ongoing for the past few months.” He pointed out that the bill is not new spending and instead draws from the governor’s budget vetoes, previously budgeted construction projects and money in various state funds. Kotowski pointed to a fiscal analysis, known as a note, on the legislation, which says: “The bill provides for no new revenue sources, nor does the bill require any additional state spending. This bill does not directly have any significant fiscal impact. The supplemental appropriation to the Department of Central Management Services for group insurance was expected to be included in the Fiscal Year 2013. Therefore the fiscal impact to the General Revenue Fund is negligible. Supplemental appropriations provided from other state and federal funds are provided on the basis of the availability of moneys in those funds.”

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