Quinn surprises with deeper cuts to state budget

July 1, 2011

By Kristen McQueary

(AP/File)

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn late Thursday surprised lawmakers by trimming even further the Fiscal Year 2012 budget they sent him, although he hopes to send more money to early childhood education programs when lawmakers return in November to consider vetoed items.

Quinn took the legislature’s nearly 8 percent cut to his proposed operating budget deeper, finding another $376 million to slice away. He introduced an operating budget of nearly $36 billion in February, which lawmakers considered too high. They sent him a blueprint of $33.2 billion, a pared-down spending plan that Quinn consistently criticized as overly harsh to the state’s core principles of education, public safety and social services.

But on Thursday, he shaved even more from state spending, including $89 million from a school transportation reimbursement fund and $276 from Medicaid, which will impact hospitals and nursing homes that rely on the state to help pay for low-income patients.

Quinn’s options on the budget were limited. The Illinois Constitution limits his veto authority, allowing him to reduce money in the budget but not increase it. Lawmakers will reconvene in November to consider his vetoes, which include a utility rate increase and – potentially – his action on a gambling expansion bill.

Quinn has not taken action on the bill but described it as “excessive.”

He did not hold a public event to answer questions about his budget changes. Instead his office e-mailed a one-page statement four hours before the new fiscal year began.

He said the budget process didn’t end with his signature Thursday night but will continue throughout the summer and fall.   

“From day one, I have stressed the need to invest in education by reducing high administrative costs and reallocating those funds to the classroom, particularly in early childhood education,” he said in the statement. “Implementing a budget is not a one-day event, but rather a year-round process filled with robust debate and difficult decisions

Earlier this year, Quinn called for complete elimination of the state’s regional offices of education, and while lawmakers reduced money appropriated for their use, they did not erase the offices altogether. Regional education offices have long been criticized as unnecessary layers in school bureaucracy. The suburban Cook County office put a fine point on those criticisms two years ago when its superintendent, Charles Flowers, was arrested on charges he misspent taxpayer money.