Quinn calls for $1 billion in state budget cuts

Doug F8inke

Gov. Pat Quinn is calling for $1 billion in cuts in his budget plan for next year, eliminating the Circuit Breaker program and regional school offices and cutting things like Medicaid reimbursements and transportation assistance to local school districts.

Quinn is not calling for any additional tax or fee increases in the budget, although he has not ruled out a cigarette tax increase.

The spending plan still hinges on the state borrowing $8.75 billion to quickly pay down its backlog of bills. Republicans in the legislature said Tuesday they are opposed to the plan and will block it. Without the borrowing plan, the state will continue to have about an $10 billion deficit administration officials said.

About half of the cuts -- $552 million -- will come from reducing Medicaid rates, the amount the state pays to doctors, hospitals and nursing homes to provide health care to the poor. Health care providers already complain that the reimbursement rates are too low and do not cover the cost of providing care.

“We absolutely don’t believe that will happen,” Quinn’s chief of staff Jack Lavin said when asked if the cuts might result in doctors refusing to treat Medicaid recipients.

Quinn also wants to eliminate the Illinois Cares Rx program which provides assistance in purchasing prescription drugs. It is expected to save about $107 million. As part of health care reform, the federal government is now covering some costs that weren’t previously covered.

Quinn called for elimination of the Circuit Breaker program that provides assistance to seniors for prescription drug costs and property taxes. It would save about $24 million.

General state aid to school districts is being spared, but Quinn wants to cut state aid for transportation costs by $95 million. If the plan is approved, transportation reimbursements will be down 50 percent from what they were two years ago.

Lavin said the cuts should not necessarily result in property tax increases at the local level to cover the loss. He said districts can cut administrative expenses instead.

Quinn wants to eliminate state aid to regional offices of education which will save about $14 million. Ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich tried unsuccessfully to eliminate the offices during his term.

Illinois will also try to consolidate some of the 868 school districts in the state.?“It is way too many,” said Quinn Budget Director David Vaught.?There is no goal for the number of consolidations nor an estimate for how much money it would save.??Quinn wants to hire additional prison guards which he said will result in savings on overtime costs. However, to save about $10 million, Quinn will not hire new state police officers to fill vacancies.

Overall, Quinn is proposing a $52.7 billion state budget. Of that, $35.4 billion is in the state’s general funds, the area of spending over which the state has the most control.