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Illinois lawmakers face off over 2015 budget

Published: Friday, March 21, 2014 11:40 p.m. CDT
Caption
(AP photo)
Lobbyist and spectators listen to lawmakers during a committee hearing Friday at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield. The heads of several Illinois agencies and universities appear before committee to discuss the potential impact of next year's budget cuts. The state is facing a roughly $1.3 billion cut in spending because of the scheduled roll back of the temporary income tax increase. The meeting comes days before Gov. Pat Quinn is scheduled to give his 2015 budget address.

SPRINGFIELD – The fight over Illinois’ next budget ramped up Friday, as the heads of several state agencies said they’d be forced to lay off staff, close facilities and slash services if spending is cut as projected, and Republicans accused Democrats of putting on a “dog and pony show” to justify another tax increase.

The tussle came during a Senate hearing just days before Gov. Pat Quinn is set to unveil his proposed 2015 budget. The Chicago Democrat is expected to say for the first time Wednesday whether he wants to extend Illinois’ temporary income tax increase or approve some other form of revenue to deal with the budget crisis.

Democrats estimate Illinois will have a $3 billion budget gap next year – about $1.6 billion of which is because the temporary income tax increase Democrats approved in 2011 is scheduled to be rolled back in January. Senate Democrats say that would lead to cuts in discretionary spending of about 20 percent, and asked agency leaders to spell out for lawmakers Friday what such a decrease would mean.

The results were ugly. State schools Superintendent Chris Koch said the potential cuts would mean $967 million less for education, leading to 13,400 teacher layoffs, increased class sizes and cuts to extracurricular programs. He also said schools would receive just 65 percent of what state statutes say they should get in general state aid. Currently schools receive 89 percent of that amount.

S.A. “Tony” Godinez, director of the Illinois Department of Corrections, said a 20 percent cut would be “nothing short of disastrous.” He said the department would be forced to close 11 prison facilities and release 15,500 prisoners into communities.

But Republicans accused Democrats – who hold veto-proof majorities in both chambers – of over-inflating the budget shortfall to make their case for another tax hike. They also said Democrats haven’t funneled the billions of dollars from the previous tax increase into education or paying down bills as they promised when they approved it.

“This doom and gloom scenario that you have paraded everybody in here to provide is actually as far from the reality we face in putting this budget together as could be,” said state Sen. Matt Murphy, a Republican from Palatine, who also called the hearing “a dog and pony show.”

State Sen. Dale Righter, a Republican from Mattoon, said Democrats don’t want to look at areas of the budget such as Medicaid, where he said efficiencies could be found that would reduce cuts to other state agencies and programs. Democrats defeated a measure Righter sponsored earlier this week to address Medicaid spending.

“You don’t want ideas,” Righter said. “You just want your ideas.”

But State Sen. Dan Kotowski, a Park Ridge Democrat and top Senate budget negotiator, said the numbers are real.

“This is the impact we see,” Kotowski said. “This is the reality we’ve been dealing with.”

___

Associated Press writer Sara Burnett contributed from Chicago.

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