WIUM Tristates Public Radio

State Faces Hard Choices for Budget Reform

Feb 22, 2012

In his budget address, Governor Pat Quinn, said three-quarters of Illinois'  pension burden is for people who don't work for the state. It covers some of the pension costs for teachers and others who are employees of local government bodies.

State Senator John Sullivan (D-47)  said the state must bring all the stakeholders to the negotiating table to find a long-term solution to funding pensions.

He said, “I simply don't think it's realistic to think that we can push all of that cost on the local taxing bodies. That's not going to happen. But will they be a part of the discussion? Will they need to be a part of the solution? I think that's going to be on the table, no question.”

When it comes to covering the state's $83 billion in unfunded pension liability, Sullivan said there are no good choices. The goal, he said, must be to create the least pain for the fewest people.

Sullivan wonders if the legislature will get a report on reforms by the April 17th deadline

He said, “I think the time constraints on that working group to make their recommendations is probably not realistic.” He feels if the group meets that deadline, lawmakers will have plenty of time to act on its proposals before the legislative session ends.

The governor also said he wants to cut Medicaid spending by $2.7 billion. Sullivan said the state will have a great deal of flexibility once federal constraints expire. The state accepted extra Medicaid money from the federal government two years ago. He said the state could not reduce its enrollment or benefits once it took the money.

Sullivan also said the state needs to implement Medicaid reforms that the governor signed into  law nearly a year ago. The changes never took effect because the federal government did not grant the state waivers to tighten eligibility requirement.

He said, “Seeking those waivers from the federal government is going to be part of that (reform).”  

Governor Quinn said he is willing to work with lawmakers to discuss all options to find savings in pensions and Medicaid.

He said lawmakers can no longer put off coming to grips with the problems that plague the state's finances.

House GOP leader Tom Cross said the governor is a little late in facing the state's fiscal reality, though he welcomes Quinn facing the facts.

The governor has told state agencies to make cuts.  His plan includes  closing 60 state facilities including prisons and developmental centers. 

Quinn wants to increase funding for preschool through higher education. He also wants to give more money to scholarship programs.

Republicans responded the state can't afford that expense.