Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Quinn budget to send message: Another lean year


Gov. Pat Quinn will spell out his post-tax increase budget Wednesday, quelling any ideas that the state resolved its budget issues a month ago.

Quinn and members of his administration have been tight-lipped about details of what will be in the budget outline, although the governor is expected to renew his call for borrowing and outline cuts to various programs.

The essential message, though, is that the state still faces a cloudy financial future despite the 67 percent income tax increase approved by the General Assembly last month.

“It’s going to be a lean year,” Quinn said in Chicago Friday when asked about his upcoming budget speech.

Quinn was coy about whether his budget plan will call for layoffs of state workers. He said it “depends on the agency,” while quickly adding that the state workforce is already smaller under his tenure and that employees may need to be added in some places, such as among prison guards.

Quinn’s options are limited on the layoff issue. The administration signed an agreement with American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 that there would be no layoffs or facility closures until the end of June 2012. Layoffs could have to come from non-AFSCME payroll.

Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield, said he’s concerned about any job reductions.

“Layoffs would be a concern here in Springfield,” he said. “I don’t know what he would target. We’re so low in Corrections and State Police.”

Rep. Raymond Poe, R-Springfield, said he hasn’t been briefed on the budget, but he doesn’t think Quinn will resort to layoffs.

“We’re pretty bare bones right now,” Poe said.

However, that doesn’t mean Quinn couldn’t cut headcount, Poe said. The governor could pare the workforce by not filling vacancies as people retire or otherwise voluntarily leave their jobs.

Quinn is expected to announce cuts in some programs, but Republicans are already questioning if the cuts will be real or smoke and mirrors.

The administration last week put out a 12-page list of cuts totaling $3.6 billion it says it made to the state budget over the last two years.

Republicans, though, said the numbers are misleading. About $1.8 billion in Medicaid bills and $450 million in state employee health insurance bills were pushed off to the future.

“Apparently what they have done is just move money around and not made cuts,” Bomke said. “They are not realistic cuts.”

However, he said, cuts are essential if the state is to get out of its financial hole.

“They raised the income tax by $7 billion,” Bomke said. “If he controls spending, he can work his way out (of the deficit) in a couple of years.”

Quinn has made it clear that he still wants the General Assembly to approve a plan to borrow $8.75 billion in order to quickly pay off the state’s bill backlog.

The administration doesn’t call it new borrowing, however. It calls the plan “debt restructuring” because the state already owes the money to vendors and pays interest on it. The administration also said it is fairer for the state to borrow money from the financial markets rather than from its vendors.

Even if all Democrats in the General Assembly vote for the plan, some Republicans must also support it, and so far none have -- although Poe has said he could support a scaled down version.

“I’m not going to do $8 billion,” Poe said.

Rep. Rich Brauer, R-Petersburg, said that for Republicans to support the borrowing plan, “we’ll have to have quite a few things tied to it.”

One is workers’ compensation reform, which Brauer said must come before borrowing to ensure it will be done. He also said he wants to see a new political map that shows what his district boundaries will be if he runs for re-election.

“The map might be a little more responsible, too,” Brauer said of making it a condition for borrowing.

Copyright 2011 The State Journal-Register. Some rights reserved.

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