Quinn unveils $53B budget plan

February 17, 2011 5:24:46 AM PST
''Saying no isn't enough unless you're willing to offer real alternatives,'' Gov. Pat Quinn said to the Illinois General Assembly Wednesday as he discussed his budget plan.

Republicans have said they will not approve the $53 billion budget, which includes deep cuts and a plan to borrow billions.

"Billions of dollars in bills will not go away by magic. All unnecessary state spending will be eliminated," Gov. Pat Quinn said. He wants to cut Illinois Cares, the Medicare prescription drug assistance plan that was launched with great fanfare by former governor Rod Blagojevich, which would save the state about $100 million. Also, Quinn wants to cut Medicaid assistance to hospitals and nursing homes, which would save the state about half a billion dollars.

"We have taken the first steps to stabilize our budget and with a comprehensive plan to restrain spending and reform state government," he said.

Quinn wants public school consolidations

Quinn said he wants to increase spending for public schools, but wants smaller school districts to merge, a concept that has failed in the past. He said the consolidation would save the state around $100 million.

He would also trim $95 million in what the state pays local school districts to help defray bus transportation costs. Quinn said that cost should be handled by school districts.

Quinn on borrowing plan

The budget includes a plan to borrow $8.75 billion to promptly pay off the state's unpaid bills, which are months behind.

"With debt restructuring legislation, we have the opportunity to jumpstart our economy this year by paying our vendors today. That's an immediate injection of billions into our economy," said Quinn.

The governor's budget backers say moving on that now makes economic sense.

"I do think the first step we take will be to see that we are out from under our old bills," said Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, (D) House majority leader.

Republicans acknowledge there may be a need for some borrowing, but they are unanimously opposed to the Quinn plan, saying that there's some slight of hand going on and that part of what Quinn would borrow is actually meant for increased spending.

"No new spending and very short-term borrowing may make sense. But Gov. Quinn wants to increase spending and borrow long term and that's just insanity," said Sen. Kirk Dillard, (R) Hinsdale.

"I think the plan will set us up for a permanent deficit and a tax increase in four years," said Sen. Christine Radogno, (R) Senate minority leader.

For the plan to go forward, there has to be a three-fifths approval, which Republicans say isn't going to happen.

Quinn names 'Innovation Council'

Quinn said Brad Keywell, co-founder of Groupon, will lead a newly created "Innovation Council" meant to find creative ways of boosting the state economy.

Quinn says the council will encourage cooperation among business, scientists, investors and universities. The governor says "We will create the jobs of today and tomorrow right here in Illinois."

Critics want more specifics

Critics of the governor's speech say it was lean on details, and it didn't address further pension reform or retiree health benefits, which the GOP says are the real elephants in the room. The Senate President John Cullerton, a Democrat, also says he has questions. He canceled a press availability Wednesday afternoon and then issued a written statement calling on the governor, in part, to provide more he details on what it is he would do with the money that would be borrowed.