Naperville chamber hears from Quinn's budget guru
With all the state's budget problems, at least lawmakers from both parties are talking about solutions.
That's the message John Schmitt of the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce said he got after hearing a presentation from Gov. Pat Quinn's top budget official Wednesday.
"Both sides are talking," said Schmitt, the chamber's president and CEO. "And that is very, very important for the success of the state and continued growth."
Roughly 50 business people heard what Schmitt called "the straight scoop" from David Vaught, director of the governor's office of management and budget and a Naperville resident.
They heard about the state's Medicaid reform and the complications spending obligations such as pension payments cause for budget cuts.
And they learned one of Quinn's next steps to trying to get Illinois' finances back in line. The governor will appoint a revenue commission to study ways the state can bring in more money to deal with increasing pension and Medicaid expenses, Vaught said.
"The spending pressures are up. You made cuts. You squeezed education, you squeezed human services, you squeezed public safety, and your spending still goes up," Vaught said. "This is what's really hard about the debate. People are very frustrated."
Bipartisan Medicaid reform tightened the standards of who qualifies for the government-provided health care and tried to address the demand for health services by creating a coordinated care system, Vaught said.
Still the necessity of funding Medicaid, pensions and labor costs cut into what's available for priorities such as education and human services.
"The governor wanted to see an increase in elementary and secondary education spending this year despite all our budgetary problems, and we didn't get that," Vaught said. "It actually went down $150 million."
Lawmakers know budget cuts to education and other areas will be painful, said State Rep. Darlene Senger, a Naperville Republican, who attended Vaught's talk. But at least now teachers and leaders of social service organizations know how much state funding they're working with.
"One thing that I think is a good policy is at least you know where you are," Senger said. "That's what we're doing this for."
Vaught admitted plenty of his points about the state's economy fall in the bad news category.
He called the recent recession "deep and terrible" and said the economic recovery is not yet "robust enough."
Changing how the state formulates its budgets and beginning to pay down debt could start to get Illinois' finances back on the right track, he said. And continuing to keep legislators talking about how to improve the budget will do a lot to speed the process.
"In this last session, we saw the committees going deeper into the works, larger parts of committees actually working, asking questions, making suggestions, making changes," Vaught said. "And I think that's a significant process improvement."
Vaught's talk in Naperville comes as Quinn is expected to act soon on the state budget lawmakers approved in May. It's unclear what Quinn will do, but a spokeswoman says details should are set to come out Thursday afternoon.