Gov. Pat Quinn on Monday warned he will unveil a “hard and difficult” spending plan during his Wednesday budget address, saying cuts will have to be made because of state leaders’ inability to reduce the costs of government worker pensions.
But the Democratic governor doesn’t plan to ask taxpayers to fork over more in taxes and fees to help make ends meet, according to an aide familiar with the budget plan. Quinn also is not expected to unveil any new programs.
Instead, Quinn indicated he plans to frame up the speech as a matter of “what our choices are” — reining in the state’s $96.8 billion unfunded pension liability or standing by while money for other priorities is squeezed out. One area likely to take a hit is education, which already has been slashed by nearly $900 million since 2009.
“I don’t think we have any choice. The fact that pension reform hasn’t happened yet has caused some serious repercussions for other parts of the budget, and that includes education,” Quinn told reporters Monday following a meeting at the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago.
“We have to lay out the facts for the budget of the coming fiscal year,” the governor added. “And definitely the members of the legislature have to come to the realization that pension reform is imperative if we’re going to have a better budget in the future.”
Quinn first called on lawmakers to pass changes to state employee retiree benefits more than a year ago, but talks have yet to land a bill on his desk.
The governor now supports legislation sponsored by Senate President John Cullerton that combines proposals put forth by lawmakers in both the House and the Senate to reduce costs.
But a variety of other ideas also have been introduced, including a series of more Draconian bills put forth by House Speaker Michael Madigan that lawmakers resoundingly shot down during test votes last week.
Meanwhile, the pension deficit grows. So does a separate stack of unpaid bills that the comptroller’s office puts at almost $10 billion. The backlog continues despite $15 billion in new money the state has brought in since Quinn signed off on an income tax hike two years ago. Illinois also is bracing to lose hundreds of millions of dollars under the federal sequestration cuts.
The governor said Illinois has been left to tread water while other states seek to invest in new programs.
“Traditionally, in most states and certainly in Illinois, the budget would go up year after year to invest in new opportunities and new priorities,” Quinn said. “We’ve had to, over the last four years, cut the operations budget. Not improve it or increase it, but rather cut it. So there’ll be more of that this year.”
Meanwhile, Quinn defended a tentative deal with the state’s largest employee union that would give workers raises in exchange for employees and retirees paying more for health care. He said the 15-month battle was a victory for both taxpayers and state workers, noting previous governors often made promises to workers the state could not afford.