By Andrew Thomason Illinois Statehouse News
SPRINGFIELD — Illinois Senate Republicans want to chop more than $5 billion from Gov. Pat Quinn’s introduced budget of $35.4 billion. GOP senators say the cuts are the only responsible way for the state to finally dig itself out of the budget hole of the past several years.
The Senate GOP on Thursday came out with a list of $6.7 billion in cuts to the governor’s plan, including $1.3 billion from Medicaid, $725 million from elementary and secondary education and $300 million from local government revenue sharing programs.
The reduction in Medicaid spending, which also would result in fewer federal dollars for the program, would be achieved by making it tougher to enroll in the program and asking recipients to pay more for services.
To reach the $725 million reduction from education spending, Republicans suggest keeping the foundation level — or how much schools get per student annually — flat for the third year in a row.
Out of their list, Republicans claim $5 billion worth of cuts are needed to be able to roll back the recent 67-percent personal income tax increase when it expires in four years.
“While these spending cuts are tough, I look more to where we’re going to be if we have the courage to do it today and see a future that’s far different from our recent past and present,” Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, said.
Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno said the list released Thursday was a menu that members of both political parties need to explore and decide what can be cut.
“We are willing to put at least half the votes on those, so we’re not just talking about cuts that somebody needs to make somewhere. We’re willing to actually vote on these cuts,” Radogno said. “If other people have other ideas, we’re willing to talk to them. We want to know if they’re willing to put votes on some of these cuts.”
Radogno said her caucus would put at least 15 votes — half the number needed to pass legislation out of the Senate — on any of the cutting measures. Because the GOP is the minority, any idea from a Republican needs Democratic votes to make it out of the Senate.
Radogno cautioned that if the state doesn’t start to check its spending, the income tax hike could become permanent or be increased even more. The GOP’s plan would use the income tax increase, which is expected to bring in $7 billion annually, to pay off the state’s overdue bills in about two years, Murphy said. Quinn’s remedy to cut down the stack of bills is to borrow $8.75 billion, though that plan has stalled momentarily in the Legislature.
A Quinn spokeswoman said the governor is glad that Republicans were offering ideas of substance, but highlighted several issues considered huge roadblocks to implementation.
“If Illinois were to implement the cuts proposed today, Illinois would miss out on millions(that) Illinois taxpayers have sent to (Washington) D.C. in taxes; legal action would be taken against the state for violations of funding statutes, and conflicts of interest would be codified into state agencies; and economic recovery efforts that are creating jobs would be halted in their tracks,” Annie Thompson, spokeswoman for Quinn, said in an e-mail.
Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, also said it was nice to hear the GOP come out with something other than opposition to Democratic initiatives. He went on, however, to say their list must be followed up with substantive action.
“I hope that this is just the beginning. To that end, I am reserving a series of appropriations bills for their use in hopes that they will use this opportunity to fully engage in the appropriations process. I believe that their proposals and commitment can be the base line for discussion on what we all agree is a necessary process of cutting waste and creating efficiencies,” Cullerton said in a news release.