At the end of May, Democrat lawmakers sent a budget to the Governor that once again lacked the spending cuts needed to resolve the state’s deficit. The budget will make the state’s fiscal problems worse and risks that the “temporary” 67 percent income tax increase, forced through by a lame-duck Legislature in January, becomes permanent.
At the end of June, Governor Quinn signed the Fiscal Year 2012 budget into law, after announcing a series of what he calls “cuts” to education and healthcare.
In truth, these “cuts” are nothing more than playing games with numbers. The bulk of the “cuts” Quinn made to the state budget June 30 will not reduce spending, but instead push the state deeper into debt by further delaying payments on state Medicaid obligations.
Though the Governor is touting $276 million in cuts to reimbursements to hospitals, the structure of the Medicaid program has not been changed, so the Governor’s action will simply extend the payment cycle to providers. The budget plan sent to Governor Quinn had already relied on pushing off payments of almost $1.1 billion Medicaid bills into the next fiscal year, so the Governor’s “cut” will increase that amount to nearly $1.4 billion.
Governor Quinn’s second largest cut was to the state’s transportation reimbursement for schools. The reduction targets both suburban and downstate school districts, which both rely heavily on buses to transport students safely.
The Governor’s third $11.3 million cut leaves regional superintendents unpaid, though their duties remain intact. After the General Assembly rejected Quinn’s proposal to eliminate the job, he alone removed their funding, arguing that they “can be funded from other state funds.” The education officials have agreed to stay on the job, without paychecks, until the never-should-have-happened issue is resolved.
In sharp contrast, my Senate Republican colleagues and I offered a menu of possible reductions that totaled more than $6.7 billion. Coupled with a comprehensive jobs recovery proposal, those cuts would have paved the way for ending the income tax increase in 2014, when it is now scheduled to expire. Without the cuts, Illinois will face a cumulative deficit of more than $22 billion in five years.
While we had hoped for an honest discussion and negotiation on the budget, the response was almost entirely negative. The refusal to make painful and difficult, but necessary, spending cuts almost certainly risks the 67 percent tax hike becoming permanent.
This budget still spends too much money and relies too much on such smoke-and-mirrors tricks as further delaying the state’s unpaid obligations, now at $7.4 billion.
We must fundamentally change the way we do business in Springfield. We need true reforms, controlled spending and good fiscal management – not expedited political solutions. I will continue to push for a responsible approach, for long overdue reforms to a system that clearly does not work.
With state employees being denied the union raises they were promised in a pre-election deal with Governor Quinn, and with bills continuing to pile up, it appears likely that this budget is just a placeholder, a temporary spending plan.
Next year, we have to get it right, with responsible spending cuts and real fiscal restraint. We must stop subjecting Illinois taxpayers to “déjà vu all over again,” again.