After being hammered for not providing many specifics during last week’s State of the State address, Gov. Pat Quinn offered up a small handful today, saying he wants to go after the “sacred cows” that drive up state spending.
Speaking before a packed City Club of Chicago audience, Quinn said he wants to cut Medicaid expenses by $2 billion, close tax loopholes that cost the state millions of dollars and examine changes to the public employee pension system that include raising the retirement age for workers.
But the governor was sure to save the bulk of details for his budget address scheduled for Feb. 22, noting the major issues are tough topics to tackle in any year, nonetheless an election year with all 177 House and Senate seats up for grabs.
“There are choices that Illinois has to make, in the past they’ve been pretty political choices,” Quinn said. “So we really have to have a debate on that this year. Medicaid reform, pension reform, tax reform. All these go together.”
The governor will face a strong fight from the state’s public employee unions after declaring that he wants to change benefits for current workers — an area he’s been hesitant to approach in the past.
Quinn said that when it comes to pension cost reform “everything must be on the table,” including lowering cost of living increases, hiking the retirement age and asking employees to pay more for benefits. He also wants to examine shifting some of the pension burden to universities and local school districts, saying they pay little or nothing toward the cost of retirement benefits for their workers.
The governor would not say whether he would support efforts to revamp the state’s pension payment structure, which requires the state to make larger contributions each year in what was supposed to be an effort to fund the system by 90 percent by the year 2045.
Meanwhile, Quinn said the state can no longer afford to pay $15 billion a year for the Medicaid program, which provides health care for the poor. He wants to cut that by $2 billion, and amount he says lawmakers “shifted” over from last year’s budget by delaying payments.
Quinn wouldn’t say exactly how he wants to reach that figure, but said some savings can come from cutting the reimbursement rate for doctors, hospitals and pharmacies that provide services. It’ll be a tough sell with the state’s powerful health care lobby geared up to oppose such cuts.
“Nobody will get scalped in the system, but everybody’ s going to get a haircut,” Quinn said.
However, the governor said the state will not prosper on cuts alone, and said he will propose closing some corporate tax loopholes in an effort to raise more money for early childhood education and state-funded scholarships for college students.
“We’ll ask the loophole lobby: ‘What’ s more important, early childhood education for a four-year-old or your loophole?’” Quinn said.
Closing corporate tax loopholes has generally come up short of votes in the General Assembly.