By Mary J. Cristobal Illinois Statehouse News
SPRINGFIELD — An eagerness to cut and a hesitation to borrow ranked among the top reactions from local lawmakers after listening to Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget speech on Wednesday.
Some Republicans were left searching for details in the governor’s “debt restructuring” pointers.
Newly elected State Rep. Joe Sosnowski, R-Belvidere, said the governor could have outlined more specifics on reforms and cuts.
“Well, unfortunately it was very light on true financial and economic discussion,” Sosnowski said. “There was a talk about the borrowing, which appears to be a Band-Aid, which is obviously going to cause long-term trouble for future generations. We would have liked to see more discussions on what areas we can actually reform and reduce in state government in the big areas, Medicaid and pension reform. We really need the governor’s office to take a lead on those matters.”
Like Sosnowski, State Rep. Michael Tryon, R-Crystal Lake, said the state should change its spending habits first before it borrows more money.
“So I think you’ll see a lot of discussion about what is the right amount to borrow based on cuts that are being proposed,” Tryon said. “But I still think reforms are necessary in the spending side of the budget before we try to borrow any more money.”
Illinois has accumulated $10 billion in overdue bills and other financial obligations. And there’s a bill brewing that would allow the state to borrow $8.75 billion to pay off the overdue debts.
State Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, said the state’s “sad financial situation” calls for a compromise.
“Because when it comes to borrowing, the governor’s going to need Republican votes in any borrowing plan, and that’s going to be very, very, important,” Brady said. “It’s not that we’re saying 'no' to it, it’s just the number — we have to work on the number.”
On the other side, Democrats are up to the job of balancing and cutting for next year’s $35.4 billion budget.
State Rep. Charles Jefferson, D-Rockford, said he knows it’s not always easy to make those cuts.
“Line item by line item, we just need to continue to look across the board,” Jefferson said. “Look at the budget and make sure we cut this without hurting this, make sure we can cut this and build on this. You know it’s not going to be an easy task. But I mean we’re up to the task, and we’re willing to do whatever it takes to make sure those things would happen.”
State Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-Moline, also said he is willing to make the hard decisions.
“Show me the cuts. And if they can show me the cuts, and if they can pass the smell test, and voters are for them — well let’s make those cuts,” Jacobs. “But keep in mind, most of our expenditures in the state of Illinois are spent on education, 40 percent. The other 40 percent is spent on human services, so that 20 percent is not very much to play with.”
During his speech, Quinn invited those opposed to his so-called "debt restructuring" plan to come up with ideas on which programs to eliminate to save the state money.
State Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock, took issue with cutting Medicaid reimbursement rates to nursing homes and hospitals, and suggested targeting state agencies and boards.
“Why doesn’t he get rid of all his cronies on these boards and commissions that get pensions and salaries and other health benefits?” Franks said. “Why don’t we get rid of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity? That would save us over a billion dollars.”
Franks railed at Quinn's proposed cuts to senior citizen programs.
“So we’d be able to save important programs like Circuit Breaker so our senior citizens who get fixed incomes can get reduced prices for their prescription drugs," Franks said. "I can’t believe that he would take that away from our senior citizens while letting his cronies stay on boards and commissions making $35,000 a year while earning pensions for very little work.”