Quinn describes deep cuts, says more may be coming

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Stuck with the job of managing the worst deficit in Illinois history, Gov. Pat Quinn delivered a budget plan Thursday that includes $1.4 billion in cuts to schools, hospitals and prisons.

CHICAGO (AP) — Stuck with the job of managing the worst deficit in Illinois history, Gov. Pat Quinn delivered a budget plan Thursday that includes $1.4 billion in cuts to schools, hospitals and prisons. But he postponed a decision that could lead to far more painful cuts. Quinn didn’t say how he’ll make $3.7 billion in payments to government pension systems, choosing instead to hope that legislators will reverse themselves and vote to borrow the pension money. The Chicago Democrat said he was doing his best to protect government operations in key areas. "The people of Illinois want their state government to be lean, but they also want their state government to invest in important things that help us create jobs and maintain jobs, and that’s education, health care and public safety," Quinn said at a news conference. Still, his cuts take a toll on those areas. Schools see a $241 million hit, the governor’s office said. Universities lose $100 million. Spending on human services will fall by $312 million. Even the cuts Quinn has outlined so far were enough to worry groups that serve the needy. "We don’t have a constituency that can rally and put pressure on people because our clients are pretty much the homeless person, the people who fall through the nets," Ray Soucek, president of Chicago’s Haymarket Center. Soucek said the alcohol and drug treatment center is losing about 13 percent of its state funding and will again have to cut staff and services if things don’t change. Quinn’s Republican opponent in the race for governor criticized him for not cutting even deeper. "It’s too little, too late," said Bill Brady, a state senator from Bloomington. Thursday marked the start of Illinois’ new fiscal year. Quinn signed the new budget into law and used his veto power to recommend reductions in some areas. Legislators gave Quinn broad powers to decide which government programs suffer cuts and which don’t. He used that authority to divvy up nearly $3.3 billion, with most of the money going to human services and health care, and also to cut $900 million in some spots. The bottom line, Quinn said, is that general spending will decline by 5.3 percent to $24.9 billion. The administration will decide over the next month exactly how the cuts will be put in place, said Quinn budget director David Vaught. He and Quinn also warned that more cuts could come later in the year. Vaught, in an interview with The Associated Press, acknowledged that Quinn’s plan assumes legislators ultimately will approve borrowing money so the state can make its required contribution to pension systems for teachers, university employees and government workers. But that measure has fallen a few votes short in the state Senate. If lawmakers don’t do something, Quinn will have to take the pension money from elsewhere in the budget, shortchanging other programs. Illinois faces a deficit of roughly $13 billion, the largest in state history. The cuts Quinn announced Thursday reduce that, but there’s still a $6 billion gap between expenses and revenue in the coming year and about $6 billion in unpaid bills from last year. That shortfall equals half the budget’s general funds, where state officials have broad authority to raise or lower spending. Quinn had wanted to reduce the deficit by raising income taxes, but legislators ignored that idea. They also refused to say where the budget should be cut, leaving that to Quinn. "They didn’t want to put their fingerprints on any reductions or any cuts whatsoever," Quinn said. Lawmakers gave Quinn authority to paper over the deficit by taking money out of special funds, borrowing against future revenue and simply letting bills go unpaid until the next fiscal year. At one point, Quinn seemed to suggest he considers the budget balanced. "There’s no hole left," he said. Sen. Matt Murphy, a budget expert for Senate Republicans, questioned whether Quinn will actually make the cuts he’s promising. He said Quinn’s outline contained "a lot more fiction, I think, than fact." Kristina Rasmussen, executive vice president for the conservative Illinois Policy Institute, called Quinn’s cuts "very timid." If he wanted to bring spending into line with state revenues, she said, Quinn should have cut something like $4.6 billion. She said that in all his cuts, Quinn killed only one program — a fund that keeps schools from losing state money as enrollment dwindles. "Is that the bold leadership the state needs?" Rasmussen asked. Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. Photo Caption: Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn talks about a new state budget during a news conference in Chicago on Thursday July 1, 2010. (AP Photo/Charles Cherney)

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