Senate Week in Review: February 13-17

Springfield, Ill. – As lawmakers prepare to return to Springfield for Gov. Pat Quinn’s annual budget address on Feb. 22, State Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) says she is looking forward to an in-depth account of the Governor’s plan for Illinois’ finances, including more detail on how Quinn proposes to accomplish the goals laid out earlier this month in his State of the State speech.
Following the State of the State address, lawmakers from both parties noted that though the Governor’s address was full of uplifting rhetoric and compelling ideas, they were disappointed he glossed over the daunting fiscal obstacles facing Illinois. Most officials said they would have liked specifics on how the Governor’s proposals would be financed, considering the state’s current economic challenges.

On Wednesday, Feb. 22, Senator Rezin hopes for more detail on how Quinn plans to reduce the state’s projected deficit. Even after the 67 percent income tax increase, Illinois is still on an unsustainable path, with debt and unemployment continuing to rise, and the state’s credit ratings continuing to be lowered. When taking into account the financial obstacles facing Illinois, Senate GOP legislators are also interested to learn how Gov. Quinn intends to phase out the tax increase as planned.

According to projections the Governor’s administration released in early January, Illinois faces a deficit of more than $500 million in the current fiscal year, not including $2 billion in Fiscal Year 2012 Medicaid obligations that will be deferred into the next fiscal year. For the coming fiscal year, the Governor’s office promised a tightly balanced budget that would spend $33.7 billion, based on $34.1 billion in projected revenues. Ideally, that budget would keep spending slightly under revenues, and allow for a modest surplus that could be used to reduce the state’s backlog of bills. But, achieving that goal will be far from easy.

Under the outline presented by the budget office, virtually all state spending must remain flat for the next three years. In order to achieve a balanced budget there could be no increase in education, public safety, welfare and healthcare spending. That’s a tall order, given that current Medicaid projections show that Illinois would need to spend about $3 billion more next year just to retain the program’s current level of services and prevent the existing backlog of bills from growing.

Most lawmakers are eager for more information on how Gov. Quinn plans to address the unsustainable costs associated with Illinois’ Medicaid and public pension systems, which are two of the most pressing issues facing Illinois.  Both programs—and the associated costs—are growing at an alarming rate, elbowing out other essential public services. 

Governor Quinn has indicated that he will propose to cut Medicaid by $2 billion and hold Medicaid spending to current levels.  However, that would still not be enough to rein in the projected growth of the program.  Unless serious action is taken to address Medicaid obligations, it’s estimated that within five years the annual cost of the program could reach $12 billion and the bill backlog could jump to $21 billion.

Senate GOP lawmakers said a good first step to reel in Medicaid costs will be to implement bipartisan Medicaid reforms signed into law in 2011. While pleased that the administration appears to finally be taking steps to put the bipartisan reforms into place, Senator Rezin says there are still concerns about apparent foot-dragging by the administration. Though it has been more than a year since the reforms were approved by lawmakers, none of the reforms have been implemented. In time, these reforms would save the state billions of dollars.

Republicans would also like to hear from the Governor on several other issues, including his proposed closure of the Tinley Park Mental Health Center and a developmentally disabled facility in Jacksonville, ending the scandal-plagued Legislative Scholarship program, and his plans for attracting and retaining employers and jobs.

The Senate GOP Caucus underscored their willingness to work with the Governor and the Democrat majorities in the House and the Senate to address the crises facing Illinois. Senate Republicans have consistently advocated for the spending cuts and sweeping reforms needed to for Illinois to achieve fiscal stability.

In other news, Sen. Rezin said two school districts will benefit from Governor Quinn’s Feb. 16 announcement that Illinois school districts statewide will receive a total of more than $623 million from Illinois Jobs Now! in order to construct new buildings and repair and update existing ones. 

Wilmington Community Unit School District will receive $9.2 million and Spring Valley Elementary will be given $12.2 million as part of the capital funding project.  Thirty-one districts statewide were approved for the state funding, which combined with local dollars will allow school districts to complete projects totaling more than $1.2 billion. 

“I’m pleased that these two school districts are receiving this type of funding,” Sen. Rezin said.  “It is important that our school facilities are maintained and improved to provide a quality setting to match the quality of education that children are receiving.  With this funding, they’ll be able to do just that.” 

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