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Local leaders react to Quinn's budget proposal

Published: Wednesday, March 10, 2010 5:51 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, March 10, 2010 11:54 p.m. CDT

DeKALB – John Rey knows relying on the state for funds it has promised to nonprofit organizations such as the one he works for is a highly unreliable plan.

As the development director at the Family Service Agency in DeKalb, Rey’s been forced to become a little more creative to stay financially afloat.

“We are really moving out of that stage where we are looking to the state as a funding source,” Rey said, adding that the state is behind by about five months in payments to the agency. “We’ve turned more to local sources. ... You really can’t rely on [state] payments coming through.”

Illinois’ budget problems have been the cause of tardy payments to human service agencies and other government-funded organizations. Gov. Pat Quinn unveiled Wednesday a budget for Fiscal Year 2011, which starts July 1, that he said will combat the $13 billion deficit while still meeting citizens’ most critical needs.

But doing so calls for sacrifices – in the form of budget cuts.

The proposal includes more than $2 billion in cuts, including a deep reduction in education funding. In his address, Quinn asked the General Assembly to prevent funding reductions in education by raising the income tax rate to 4 percent from 3 percent.

The money generated from the 33 percent increase would restore the education budget to the funding level used this year.

State Sen. Brad Burzynski, R-Rochelle, said Quinn is effectively holding education hostage with his proposal. He said an income tax increase is irresponsible while there are proposals to expand programs but not cut any. State Rep. Robert Pritchard, R-Hinckley, said Quinn’s speech was short on details. He said he would rather start by talking about cuts, instead of an income tax boost.

While DeKalb Schools Superintendent Jim Briscoe is supportive of the tax hike, he wants lawmakers to guarantee that the new revenue will go strictly to education.

“I don’t have a lot of faith in what’s happening in Springfield,” Briscoe said. And without that assurance, he wouldn’t support the tax.

Kishwaukee College President Tom Choice said he wasn’t any more clear on where the Malta-based community college will be financially after watching the 20-minute speech.

Choice would support the proposed income tax increase, but he said the main goal of the state should be to whittle down the deficit so the state can pay its bills on time. That means belt-tightening for everyone, Choice said, arguing that it shouldn’t be done as an across-the-board cut.

Northern Illinois University President John Peters said the speech foreshadows another difficult year for higher education in the state. State universities have had to take many measures to keep the doors open. At NIU, cuts have included a hiring freeze, delaying the processing of purchases and limiting travel expenses.

“Under this budget plan, appropriations for higher education will be rolled back to pre-2006 levels,” Peters said in a written statement. “For NIU, this represents a reduction of more than $6.7 million, or 6.2 percent. If approved, this budget will further intensify the challenges we have been struggling to overcome for several years.”

Local governments may lose $300 million if the state cuts a portion of its shared income tax revenue. Illinois shares 10 percent of income tax with municipalities, and Quinn has proposed reducing this share to 7 percent.

Last year, Sandwich was supposed to get $650,000 in income tax revenue, but to date, has only received $358,000, Mayor Tom Thomas said.

That delay now is coupled with a potential $150,000 loss next year. And Thomas believes it could be deeper; he’s heard rumors that the shared state sales tax – 40 percent of the city’s budget – is next to go.

“Now we’re at the point where we’re going to be affected,” Thomas said. “I’m really not sure what’s going to happen here. Everything’s in chaos.”

Pritchard said the taking of money from municipalities only will exasperate the cuts cities, towns and villages are making.

“We are going to balance our budget by taking it through another unit of government,” Pritchard said.

Other cuts — totaling $276 million — include those in services such as home care for older adults, child care and community mental health services.

Dan Templin, executive director of the DeKalb County Community Foundation, said the decrease will make the foundation’s role more necessary. DCCF helps support other local nonprofits and public service organizations with grants.

“It’s creating an increased demand on our resources,” Templin said. “We’re trying to meet our mission ... but we certainly can’t make up for the difference of these government cuts on organizations.”

A decrease in funding to the Voluntary Action Center may affect the Meals on Wheels program and some transportation services, VAC Associate Director Ellen Rogers said. No services would be dropped, but they might be reduced, she said.

What would be fair, Burzynski said, is to inform local governments and social service agencies, as soon as possible, what they can expect to get from the state.

“It’s very frustrating from that standpoint, just not knowing where you are or where you are going to be,” he said. “Everyone could at least deal with their financial situation if they just knew for sure what they were going to receive.”

The next stop for the budget is the state Legislature, which must approve the proposal before it goes further.

• Daily Chronicle News Editor Kate Schott and reporter Elena Grimm contributed to this report.

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