Panel works toward solving state budget problems

June 5, 2009 4:15:51 AM PDT
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and legislative leaders have made some progress during meetings to discuss solutions to the state's budget problems. But they all agree that some layoffs are inevitable. The group is working on short -term fixes and long-term changes in hopes of finding solutions to the huge budget deficit.

There haven't been and there are not now the votes for an income tax increase, so the legislative leaders didn't even go there during their discussion Thursday afternoon. they talked more long-term changes like pension reform. And they called their meeting positive.

While there is a temporary budget, there is no agreement yet on how it's to be funded, and what gets cut to make it happen.

While the legislative leaders were meeting in the Thompson Center, protestors were marching outside, letting it be known they are angry over and fearful of budget cuts in the state's social services network-- cuts that they say will hurt the state's most vulnerable.

"I demand that they fully fund it! I don't hope it. I'm not begging, I'm betting," said Ruth Long, Jane Addams Senior Caucus.

The leaders themselves said they made some progress Thursday, but they didn't talk tax increase, and they don't have an agreement for funding a temporary state budget or what might be cut to achieve it by the end of this month.

"I think there will be very significant layoffs of state workers," said Rep. Mike Madigan, house speaker. How many will be cut? "I have no idea. That's what we're trying to work through."

Who might be cut, how deep they'd go hasn't been decided, but the governor said again Thursday he believes a consensus will be reached and it won't include deep cuts to social services.

"In the tough economic times, the people of Illinois don't cut their friends loose, they don't cut their neighbors loose, we find ways to work together to do what's best for the common good," said Gov. Quinn.

The governor earlier Thursday received a list of recommendations on how the state might get more bang for its buck. Freezing the number of state jobs, wages, appropriations, and cutting some paid holidays could save some money, but the more significant recommendations call for long-term changes to institutional programs -- changing health care, prison sentences for some crimes and retirement plans for state workers.

"Increasing the normal retirement age from government employees from 60 to 67 would decrease the normal amount of pensions by 40 percent a year," said Tom Johnson, Taxpayer Action Board.

Those are longer term changes that -- while important -- don't fix the immediate hole. There are not the votes for a tax hike, but Republicans see the talk of cuts as a positive step.

"A piece of it not only is not only cutting and reforming services, but also completing the ethics reform to make sure that people can be certain that the money they do send to Springfield is well," said Sen. Christine Radogno, senate GOP leader.

For an income tax hike to pass, Republican votes are needed, and they remain opposed. The governor says he will have his own recommendations for what might need to be cut while he continues to push for a tax hike.


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