SPRINGFIELD -- llinois Senate Republicans Thursday outlined $6.7 billion in possible state budget cuts, including steep reductions in education assistance, tightening eligibility for Medicaid and changing pension benefits for state employees.
SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois Senate Republicans Thursday outlined $6.7 billion in possible state budget cuts, including steep reductions in education assistance, tightening eligibility for Medicaid and changing pension benefits for state employees.
The extensive list also suggests reductions in assistance for local governments, charging more for employee and retiree health insurance and across-the-board cuts to the budgets of statewide elected officials.
"If we don't do anything, in five years, we have a $22 billion deficit," said Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont. "There is no alternative other than making some difficult and painful cuts."
"Illinois' fiscal health is poor, and we're going to have to take our medicine," said Sen. Matt Murphy of Palatine, the Senate GOP's point man on the budget. "Everybody knows you can't get away with spending more than you take in year after year after year without the bill coming due."
Radogno said the Senate's 24 Republicans don't all support all of the proposed cuts. However, she said, at least 15 of them will support any individual cut that's being proposed. That represents half of the votes needed to pass legislation in the Senate.
Not all on board
Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield, is among those who won't support changes to pension benefits for current employees. He didn't attend the news conference where the cuts were announced.
"It's unconstitutional, so it's a moot point," Bomke said.
Making changes to the benefits of current employees probably will result in a lawsuit by state employee unions, but Radogno said the state can't afford to do nothing about pension costs.
"If it needs to go to court, it needs to go to court," Radogno said. "This is a problem we can't be timid about."
Sen. Sam McCann, R-Carlinville, said he, too, is opposed to changing pension benefits for current employees, although more changes could be made in benefits for future hires.
"Any contractual obligations we have made we need to honor," McCann said.
But McCann said he knows cuts have to be made and hopes Republicans and Democrats will work together to make them.
"I want us all to sit down at the table together and come up with adult decisions that keep us from going into further insolvency," McCann said.
Murphy said pensions have to be on the bargaining table.
"The reality of the situation is you're not coming up with $5 billion of fat and waste and easy stuff," he said. "If you're not talking about pensions, Medicaid and education, you're not real on the budget."
‘Menu of options’
The GOP proposal calls for cutting $725 million from education, about 10 percent of what the state provides. The plan doesn't specify exactly how that money could be saved, but said options include freezing state aid, adjusting grants for schools with large numbers of low-income students, and eliminating an increase in early-childhood grants.
The plan calls for a savings of $1.3 billion in Medicaid. Among the ways of achieving this, Republicans said, are increasing co-pays, rolling back eligibility and eliminating optional services not required by the federal government.
Not all of the cuts need to be carried out, Republicans said. Their target is $5 billion, which they said is enough for the state to avoid a projected $22 billion deficit in five years.
"This is a menu of options. We are open to suggestions," Murphy said. "This is the beginning, we hope, of a productive dialogue."
Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, issued a statement thanking Republicans for their suggestions.
"It's nice to hear them say something other than 'no,'" Cullerton said. "I believe that their proposals and commitment can be the base line for discussion on what we all agree is a necessary process of cutting waste and creating efficiencies."
Gov. Pat Quinn's office said some of the GOP's cuts could have unintended consequences.
"Senate Republicans advocate missing out on millions of dollars of federal matching funds, simply abandoning taxpayer money that should return to Illinois to help its citizens," the statement said. "Their proposals, including nearly $1 billion in cuts to education, $650 million loss in federal Medicaid match and deep cuts to public transit services, will devastate our economy, infrastructure development, workforce training programs and put thousands out of work."
Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527.
Some cuts suggested by Senate Republicans
--$300 million by increasing health-care premiums for state employees, possibly including elimination of the high-cost fee-for-service insurance option
--$300 million by cutting 5 percent from local governments’ share of income, sales, gasoline and other state tax revenues
--$300 million by reducing payroll expenses through a hiring freeze, eliminating three of state employees’ 13 paid holidays and freezing wages for one year
--$250 million by moving the developmentally disabled out of state institutions and reviewing grant programs for reduction or elimination
--$20 million by eliminating pork projects administered by the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and possibly closing foreign trade offices
--$9 million by cutting in half the number of state-owned cars
--$2.5 million by cutting in half the number of state-issued cell phones and Blackberries
--Eliminate the Illinois Arts Council, which is chaired by the wife of House Speaker Michael Madigan
--Eliminate funding for the lieutenant governor’s office
--Eliminate state stipends for county officials