Illinois pols weigh in on state budget address

February 17, 2011

by Sean Crawford and Tony Arnold

(WBEZ File/Tony Arnold)
Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn did not bring up changing state employee benefits in his budget address, but that doesn't mean the idea is dead.

Even if Quinn wants to spare current and retiree benefits, he stayed away from the issue entirely during his speech Wednesday, but Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan said a change is necessary based on the state's financial condition.

"I'm not saying we're going to go back to the public employee and say OK there was a promise and we're going to take that away from you," Madigan said. "What I am saying is there is a benefit plan in place until today. Starting tomorrow there's going to be a new benefit plan that's not going to be as rich as the old."

Madigan said along with those who work for the state, public school teachers and those in higher education could be affected. But there is still plenty of disagreement in the legislature over changing benefits.

Madigan, speaking on the public TV program Illinois Lawmakers, again made a call for changes in education. Ideas under discussion include basing a teacher's pay on performance, restricting teacher tenure and changing the collective bargaining process.

Quinn said Wednesday he wants to borrow almost $9 billion and increase spending by $2 billion.

Some Republican legislators have said they would not support more borrowing.

But Republican Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford said he's not opposed to borrowing billions of dollars to help the state pay its bills.

Treasurer Rutherford said without the borrowing plan, the state wouldn't have money to pay its vendors.

"Yes, there is increased spending here. Some of it - there is reasons to it," Rutherford said. "Yes, there is further borrowing that the governor's called to, but, under the right configuration, it may be somewhat appropriate or configured to be appropriate."

Legislators recently approved some tax increases. Rutherford says that new money hasn't come in yet, so a borrowing plan would allow the state to pay its bills now and not put them off.