Quinn delivers Illinois budget address

March 6, 2013 8:38:44 PM PST
Cut $300 million from public education? That's what Governor Pat Quinn says he will have to do unless the state's pension crisis is resolved.

Quinn presented his latest state budget with a plea for lawmakers to come together and solve the budget crisis.

Illinois has an unfunded pension liability of more than 96-billion dollars. Quinn said Wednesday that without action, everything else could get crowded out, especially public education.

The governor calls this the most difficult budget Illinois has ever faced, driven by a pension monster that eats about one of every $5 in the state budget.

Quinn scolded lawmakers and warned of a grim road ahead.

"We all know we must reform, so members of the General Assembly, what are you waiting for?" said Quinn.

In turn, some of them suggest that though Pat Quinn may talk tough, he is not leading.

"He's got to get engaged, file a bill, get behind it, and so far he's unwilling to do that," said Sen. Matt Murphy, (R) Palatine.

There's a lot on the plate in Springfield, from concealed carry to an expansion of gambling, unpaid bills to gay marriage, and the concern is that pension reform -- the elephant in the room -- may remain unresolved at ultimately a very high cost.

While they fight over budget cuts, legislative leaders agree that the pension mess cannot sit any longer. Republicans say the House speaker must lead.

"We all know when he wants to get something done, it'll get done," said House Republican leader Rep. Tom Cross.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Michael Madigan says there will be votes on pension reform. His preference for a fix remains built around the idea that local school districts -- not the state -- would be responsible for teacher pensions.

"Seventy-five percent of the Illinois pension problem relates to local employers not making their pension payments and those payments are picked up by the state of Illinois. That's a free lunch it ought to be eliminated," said Madigan.

"I stand ready to sign pension reform today, but I cannot sign what I don't have on my desk," said Quinn.

While pension reform may have been the focus of the governor's speech, he also proposed closing corporate loopholes to pay down the state's unpaid bills.

And he said his education cuts would not impact early childhood education and some college scholarships.

The governor opened the door wider than before to a gambling expansion, saying that any growth of gaming revenue should go to teacher pensions.

A gaming expansion bill was introduced Wednesday.

Quinn's opponents say there will be a fierce battle over the planned education funding cuts, and they also complain that spending under the Quinn budget plan is actually up, and that that simply won't work.