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updated: 2/13/2011 1:29 PM

Despite more taxes, budget still won't be easy for Quinn

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  • Gov. Pat Quinn addresses a joint session of the Illinois General Assembly last year. He's scheduled to deliver his budget plans to lawmakers Wednesday.

    Gov. Pat Quinn addresses a joint session of the Illinois General Assembly last year. He's scheduled to deliver his budget plans to lawmakers Wednesday.
    associated Press


SPRINGFIELD -- Only weeks after signing off on the income tax increase that was his defining budget proposal for years, Gov. Pat Quinn will take to a podium in the Illinois House Wednesday to deliver his budget plans.

Quinn's spending proposal, buoyed by extra money from the tax increase, should be an easier sell now, right?

"Not even close," said Rep. Mark Beaubien, a Barrington Hills Republican.

Despite higher taxes, the state remains nearly $9 billion behind in paying bills to vendors, sending money to local governments and paying out tax refunds to businesses.

Quinn's solution to the problem is a plan to borrow almost $9 billion to pay off that massive backlog of bills immediately, then pay the loans off over time.

But it's a plan that will be tough for him to accomplish with nearly unanimous Republican opposition. And Democrats are wary, too.

Last month, even when Democrats mustered enough votes to take the politically dangerous step of raising taxes, they couldn't get enough support to approve taking out the huge amount of loans.

Days before Quinn's address, his budget spokeswoman Kelly Kraft wouldn't say whether the borrowing plan would be a key part of the governor's speech Wednesday. But it remains a top priority, she said.

"It will allow them to get paid immediately," Kraft said.

Other details of Quinn's budget plans haven't been made public yet. The proposal he makes this week almost certainly will be changed -- maybe significantly -- by lawmakers before it is signed into law later this year.

Each of the last two years, Quinn proposed an income tax increase and specific budget plans. Then, months later, lawmakers handed him a budget with no increased taxes and few spending specifics.

It wasn't until early this year that Quinn finally got the income tax hike he wanted.

But Quinn's plan Wednesday will be a starting point for negotiations. And what suburban lawmakers of both parties want to see is clear.

"There will need to be cuts," said Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a Democrat from Northbrook.

If Quinn proposes deep new cuts, the programs he targets for reductions could be as important as the amount he suggests taking away.

Deep cuts to schools and programs to care for the elderly and disabled, for example, could cause significant protests from lawmakers and local residents alike.

In addition, some say, any new ideas that cost money will have to be quashed. Lawmakers just starting their annual spring session soon will begin debating hundreds, or even thousands, of pieces of legislation.

Some will be projected to cost the state money. So the state budget will cast a shadow over every plan a lawmaker proposes, even if it doesn't necessarily have anything to do with state finances.

"We cannot expand programs, we cannot engage in any new spending. We have to hold the line," said Sen. Mike Noland, an Elgin Democrat.

Kraft wouldn't predict if lawmakers looking for reductions in state services would be disappointed by the governor's message Wednesday. But Republicans have already expressed doubts, and have sometimes done so in harsh terms.

"Pat Quinn is not a leader," said Sen. Kirk Dillard, a Hinsdale Republican. "It isn't in his DNA to cut spending and manage the budget."

Some Democrats, though, say the tax increase approved in January was necessary to help save a state that has some of the worst money troubles in the country.

Nekritz said that without the new money taxes will bring, Illinois would have had to cut services much more deeply than is probably realistic. The state might still have to cut $1 billion or so in expenses, she said.

But it could have been worse.

"A billion is a lot different than seven billion," Nekritz said.


• Daily Herald staff writer Jeff Engelhardt contributed to this report.