Quinn's Budget is Called Step in Right Direction

   By Benjamin Yount  (Illinois Statehouse News) - 2/23/2012 -  Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's budget proposal tops 400 pages and is more than 3 inches thick.
   Inside the governor's plan for the next fiscal year, which begins in June, are the details of how he wants to spend $33.9 billion in taxpayers’ money.
   Illinois Statehouse News examines the governor's plan, speaking with lawmakers and outside experts and checking Quinn's math to make sure that dollars add up.
   Quinn’s fiscal 2013 spending plan is $700 million more than the current budget, an increase that will pay for the increase in the state's public employee pension payment.
   "Our pension payment is increasing a little over $1 billion this year," said Quinn’s Budget Director David Vaught. Illinois will owe $5.9 billion in the upcoming year/
   While spending has increased, Quinn is attempting to live within the state’s means, said Laurence Msall, president of the Chicago-based fiscal policy watchdog group, Civic Federation.
   "The governor's proposed spending is less than projected state revenues," said Msall. "And that is a step in the right direction."
   The Legislature's Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability on Tuesday predicted Illinois will take in $34.3 billion in tax revenue in fiscal 2013.
   Quinn’s proposed spending plan maintains the status quo on spending for human services — including Medicaid — holding strong at $14 billion.
   "Illinois spent $14 billion on human services and Medicaid last year, at the same time the state had $15.9 billion in liabilities," said Jerry Stermer, Quinn's special adviser on Medicaid. "Illinois has to cut $2.7 billion from human services and Medicaid in the next budget, because the state simply cannot afford to spend $14 billion on $16.7 billion in liabilities."
   The governor has not said how Illinois will make such a large cut.
   Danny Chun, spokesman for the Illinois Hospital Association, which lobbies for almost all of Illinois hospitals, said that last year Quinn wanted to trim the amount paid to hospitals for Medicaid services. He said he fears that is the plan again.
   "Governor Quinn wanted a 6 percent cut to save $550 million on Medicaid," Chun said. "To get to $2.7 billion in savings, hospitals would see a 24 percent rate cut."
   Chun said a cut that large would be devastating.
   "In Illinois, one in three hospitals, or 70 of the 200 in the state, are losing money," Chun said. "A dramatic cut in Medicaid reimbursement may force some hospitals to close."
   Stermer said no decision has been made about a rate, but "everything is on the table."
   Quinn's budget estimates that closing 14 facilities and consolidating dozens more could save the state close to $100 million a year.
   "That's not just one year savings," said Vaught. "That's $100 million next year, and the year after that, and the year after that."
   The closings would transition residents from state institutions like the Jacksonville Developmental Center in Jacksonville and the Tinley Park Mental Health Center in Tinley Park to community care.
   The governor also is proposing to close the Tamms and Dwight Correctional Centers, and the Youth Centers in Murphysboro and Joliet.
   State Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, whose district includes one of the youth centers considered for closure, said the governor is counting on savings while discounting the costs of moving people out of prisons, youth centers or institutions.
   "Just saying that we're closing facilities is not enough," Bost said. "You actually have to implement a plan and show those savings."
   Quinn’s proposal is not all cuts in spending. He has a handful of priorities where he would like to spend new money.
   "While nearly 150,000 Illinois students received state (Monetary Awards Program, or MAP) scholarships last year to attend college, just as many qualified applicants were denied because of lack of funding," Quinn said as he pushed for a $50 million increase for the MAP scholarship fund.
   The governor also wants lawmakers to approve clean water and new housing projects, and to make sure that elementary and high schools statewide receive the same level of funding as the current budget.
   But Quinn is not saying how he intends to pay for any of the items on his wish list.
   State Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, said that for that reason, the governor probably won't get much of what he wants.
   "We're going to give schools another $20 million, we're going to give the MAP program another $50 million. How can you give stuff away when you're shutting other things down?" Forby asked after Quinn's speech. "The governor's math just doesn't add up. He needs to get someone who knows how to add and subtract and make sure he knows how to balance the budget."
   Published courtesy of Illinois Statehouse News