Illinois politicians to take on budget, pensions, Medicaid
SPRINGFIELD — Lawmakers return Tuesday to the statehouse to start the final leg of this legislative session, which ends May 31. There is much to do. Here's a sampling.
Gov. Pat Quinn asked a pension working group earlier this year to look at solutions to the state’s skyrocketing public pension costs. The state will have to pay $5.1 billion next year to cover its obligations to the five public pension systems, an increase of $1.1 billion over this year’s contribution.
Among the options under discussion are:
Eliminating cost-of-living increases for retirees,
Increasing current employees’ pension payments,
Pushing more of the cost onto school districts and universities.
Quinn’s pension-reform working group was expected to disclose its recommendations Tuesday but will not meet the deadline as it continues to hash out the details on teleconferences. State Sen. Mike Noland, D-Elgin, who is on the panel, was unable to return calls to Illinois Statehouse News on Monday because of such a teleconference.
Quinn tasked the Legislature with finding $2.7 billion in Medicaid savings this year, and created a working group to suggest how those cuts could be accomplished.
Measures such as eliminating prescription coverage to limiting the number of eyeglasses recipients can receive each year are under discussion. But the state cannot change the standards for eligibility, which is the quickest way to savings; the federal Patient Protection and Health Care Act prohibits such changes.
Quinn has suggested cutting just $1.3 billion and covering the other $1.4 billion through a tax increase on cigarettes, according to the Associated Press news service.
Quinn has threatened to keep lawmakers here during a special summer session to find the requisite savings, if necessary.
The most pressing deadline facing the General Assembly is May 31, the date by which a budget must be passed to avoid the threshold of "yes" votes needed for passage going from a majority of the Legislature to a three-fifths majority.
The Senate and the state House have agreed to base the budget on revenue projections of $33.94 billion. The state House has set a spending cap of $33.7 billion. The Senate hasn’t taken up a cap.
Lawmakers will spend a large part of the next six weeks here deciding how to divide the revenue based on testimony from advocates and state agency personnel about why they deserve a piece of the budget pie.
The General Assembly last year passed a measure that would add five casinos to the state and allow video gaming at horse tracks, O’Hare and Midway airports, and the Illinois State Fairgrounds.
But Quinn disapproved of the expansion.
The Legislature never sent the new law to the governor’s office, because Quinn threatened to veto it, and there weren’t enough votes to override a veto. That plan is still in play, but lawmakers have been working on a counter proposal.
State Sen. Terry Link, D-Waukegan, is the Senate sponsor of last year’s legislation. He said he has facilitated talks among lawmakers, Quinn’s office and the gaming industry.
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