Quinn budget begins 'at odds' with lawmakers

SPRINGFIELD - Gov. Pat Quinn today will unveil a budget proposal he argues reflects the Illinois' financial crisis and is painfully austere but is already on track to conflict with lawmakers who want to spend less.

Quinn today will propose cutting about $400 million for schools, including a 5 percent cut to universities. He'll also advocate ongoing reviews of cuts into what the state pays for health care for the poor.

And he's also eyeing possible cuts to local communities' share of state income taxes, an idea that has drawn loud protests from suburban mayors in recent years.

Quinn isn't calling for a specific cut to that program, but aides said it could be an item in a larger menu of similar reductions the governor wants.

In a briefing for reporters, Quinn's top aides blamed the heavy cuts on the state's rising public employee pension costs, yet another further pressure on lawmakers to send him legislation to cut retirement benefits.

Suburban lawmakers have offered several competing plans, but more options could make the decision tougher, not easier.

"These are not reductions the governor would like to see," Quinn budget director Jerry Stermer said of the education cuts. "He'd prefer to go the other way."

Still, Quinn's proposal to spend $35.6 billion from the state's general checkbook is already on track to conflict with lawmakers.

On Tuesday, the day before his address, both Republicans and Democrats in the Illinois House voted to spend at least half a billion dollars less than Quinn proposed. State Rep. David Harris, an Arlington Heights Republican, suggested a Quinn proposal that spent more than lawmakers wanted would be immediately "at odds."

And, Harris said, some lawmakers don't even want to spend the full amount they approved Tuesday.

"Let's not plan to go out and spend it right away." Harris said.

Quinn faces huge budget challenges that predate his administration and can't be solved in a year. The state's pile of unpaid bills is hovering around $9 billion and the state wouldn't even see savings immediately if they cut workers' pension benefits tomorrow.

"We are at the tipping point of the state just totally going to hell," said state Rep. Darlene Senger, a Naperville Republican and pensions negotiator.

Even though they've started their own budget process, suburban lawmakers say Quinn's proposal is important.

"(Quinn's) budget is extremely important because it sets the pace as to what we are going to do and how we are going to do it," said state Rep. Patti Bellock, a Hinsdale Republican.

Lawmakers have until May 31 to come up with a solution, and it remains to be seen how much Democrats' unprecedented majorities in the Illinois House and Senate affect how the governor's proposal will play out.

"We've been working very, very hard to make sure we're all on the same page," said state Sen. Dan Kotowski, a Park Ridge Democrat and budget committee chairman.

Both parties think the budget is a challenge.

The presentation Quinn's aides gave Tuesday showed that 19 percent of the state's general checkbook is set to pay for pension costs next year, compared with just 6 percent in 2008.

The state's backlog of unpaid bills presents perhaps a more urgent problem, as schools, businesses, health care providers and agencies that care for the disabled and elderly have to float hundreds of thousands of dollars to cope with Illinois' delinquency.

Quinn's aides hinted the governor could reveal another way to try to pay those bills off more quickly today. But the budget proposal presented is aimed at not having too many unpaid bills roll over to the next year.

"It's balanced. It's honest. And it's extremely difficult," Stermer said.

Ultimately, that will be up to lawmakers who will get their first crack at the plan today.

"Whether it is the governor, House or Senate, whatever plan we come up with about how we are going to spend money has to be a reality check," said state Rep. Fred Crespo, a Hoffman Estates Democrat. "It is all about numbers, and they have to add up."

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