Sides talk cuts in Springfield, but not together
Republican and Democratic lawmakers appear to be in agreement that a sizable hunk needs to be cut from the state budget.
But two different conversations are emerging from the respective sides of the aisle about just how to arrive there, together.
Republicans, in the statehouse minority, say they're willing to make tough choices. But Democrats, who control the House, Senate and governor's office, are expressing some skepticism over the GOP's motives.
Illinois Senate Republicans late last week released a budgeting plan entitled "Facing Fiscal Reality" proposing a string of cost-cutting measures totaling $6.7 billion.
They include reducing state funding to K-12 schools by $725 million, limiting college tuition waivers, reducing pension benefits for current state workers, and eliminating agencies like the East St. Louis Finance Authority and Civil Service Agency the GOP says have little use.
The plan features what Palatine Sen. Matt Murphy calls 10 "menu items" to put Illinois back on track -- immediate spending cuts, reforming systems and programs, cutting taxes, and putting a stop to borrowing.
In the minority, Murphy told the Daily Herald editorial board this week, Republicans are wise enough know they're "not in a position to say it's our way or the highway."
Still, by making $5 billion out of a possible $6.7 billion in cuts over the next fiscal year, by 2015 Illinois could be in a position to get rid of its entire tax increase, Murphy says.
"If we don't take the medicine on the front end, we continue to languish where we've been. ... We're saying spending cuts have to be part of this solution."
The plan was praised by former State Budget Director Steve Schnorf, but met with some initial skepticism from leading Democrats.
"Their efforts must go beyond more than news releases and photo ops. Releasing a list of possible cuts shouldn't be the end of their participation in the budget process," Senate President John Cullerton quipped in a statement late last week. But Cullerton's office said the Chicago Democrat is reviewing the GOP budget proposal.
In the meantime, Senate Republicans including Murphy and Pam Althoff of Crystal Lake have been in conversation with Dan Kotowski, a Park Ridge Democrat who chairs the Senate appropriations committee, about working together on the cuts.
Kotowski's appointment to head an appropriations committee came after last summer's passage of legislation he sponsored that reforms the way the state is supposed to lay out its budget.
Instead of drawing up a state budget after agencies request sums of money, Illinois is now required by law to follow a revenue-based budgeting model, where agency budgets come out of the state's revenue projections.
To that end, Kotowski said, letters have been sent to each state agency asking them to describe their goals and outcomes, using data to determine which programs are the most valuable and should get funded.
But unlike the GOP plan where severe spending cuts would yield immediate savings, Kotowski says much of the savings will really be seen in year two and year three.
He says his plan is effective because it trims the budget in the right places, after careful evaluation.
And Kotowski said they're "working very closely" with Republican Sens. Althoff and Murphy.
Those overtures to bipartisanship from both sides will be tested in the upcoming weeks.
On the Senate floor, Republican leader Christine Radogno of Lemont has promised 15 votes on any upcoming pieces of legislation involving cuts.
And Cullerton has said he is setting spending bills aside so the GOP can officially propose budget legislation, "in hopes that they will use this opportunity to fully engage in the appropriations process."