I-Team: Tax dollars fund State Fair prizes

August 3, 2010 (CHICAGO)

Illinois is more than $13 billion in the red. So Quinn's cuts trim away only about 10 percent of the deficit.

The I-Team took a look at some things that are so important, they are not being cut.

When the Illinois State Fair is called into session in a week in Springfield, Illinois residents' tax dollars will still be used to fund the prize money awarded for best-of-show animals and vegetables. Cash prizes for the best pig and other blue-ribbon livestock -- $519,000 in prize money funded by Illinois taxpayers -- remains in the state budget. Only $44,000 was cut.

Tax-dollar prizes are given for the best apple varieties and for outstanding vegetables from eggplant to watermelon. And tax-dollar prizes - or premiums as the state agriculture department calls them - for the champion Illinois duck and champion goose. And tax dollar prizes in the banjo contest from $50 to $200 per winner.

According to Gov. Quinn's operations chief, the prize money is important enough to keep in the state budget despite a $13 billion deficit.

"The State Fair is a very important tourism event in the state of Illinois, it creates a lot of jobs," said Jack Lavin, governor's chief operating officer.

While jobs, public safety and education are the governor's three priorities, Lavin looked over the program cuts released Tuesday and told ABC7 there is no 'silver bullet' solution.

"This is the worst fiscal crisis in the history of Illinois and we didn't get here overnight," said Lavin.

The General Assembly told Quinn to make the cuts and when the governor's ax fell Tuesday education lost $311 million. Nearly half of the cuts are to transportation reimbursement for student busing.

That 42-percent reduction in state aid to local school districts for bus service is expected to reduce the number of student bus routes.

Another $68 million is being cut for reading improvement and Lavin promises this is no shell game with money hidden under a different nut.

"Listen, the state budget is very complicated and there is lots of revenue that comes from different sources but the bottom line is these are real cuts...we are being very efficient. We are cutting the budget. We are tightening the belt to meet this fiscal crisis just like everyone in Illinois," said Lavin.

Education isn't the only area being squeezed. Human services and public safety are getting hammered as well. And even though by comparison that State Fair funding is miniscule, there is a guns-or-butter element to the public relations of it all - a state deficit of almost $12 billion which includes about $6 billion in unpaid state bills.

Budget cuts announced Tuesday:

State agency appropriation overview:

Budget allocations and reserves by agency:

Main state budget office link:

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