Illinois Public Media News
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn says he'll announce further budget cuts later this week, and Quinn indicated Tuesday that he will include layoffs.
If the layoffs move forward, then that would break an agreement the governor made with the major state employee union.
The governor would not say how many layoffs to expect.
"We have to do what we have to do in order to make sure we get through this fiscal year with the appropriation that the General Assembly provided," Quinn said.
Quinn said lawmakers didn't appropriate enough money for him to keep his agreement with AFSCME, the union representing thousands of state employees. Before last year's election, he signed a deal with the union, pledging not to close facilities or lay off any workers though mid next year. But he has already broken part of the deal, earlier this summer when he halted pay increases.
Anytime somebody enters into contract, you expect them to live up to it," AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall said. "And anytime somebody gives you their word, you expect them to keep it."
But Quinn said he's not betraying the union. He claims union agreements are always subject to appropriations from the General Assembly, and if "the General Assembly appropriates less money, then everyone has to adjust to that."
That fight is still taking place in court.
"Those who are unhappy about any cuts really should visit their members of the General Assembly, their representatives and senators," Quinn said.
That said, Quinn denies the layoff threat is just an effort to force lawmakers to appropriate more money.
Meanwhile, not all lawmakers are believing the governor's threats to cut state workers and close facilities.
Senator Matt Murphy (R-Palatine) said he hopes Quinn is serious about reining in the cost of government, but Murphy said he is also skeptical.
"My worst fear is this is sort of a political stunt on the part of the governor to go in to areas represented by Republicans and dangle large job losses to try to pressure support for his almost 9 billion dollar borrowing scheme," Murphy said.
Quinn wants to borrow to pay off a large backlog of bills but Republicans have blocked it. While Murphy has said he doesn't want to borrow or give the governor additional spending authority, some of his fellow GOP lawmakers, like State Senator Larry Bomke (R-Springfield) are less opposed to those approaches.
"What my suburban colleagues feel is the right thing to do, that's up to them," said Bomke, who represents a large number of state workers. "I'm all for keeping people gainfully employed and not laying people off when it's not necessary."
The issue is expected to get attention when lawmakers begin their fall session next month.
A group of Illinois lawmakers are scheduled to travel to Cuba on Tuesday, in hopes of striking deals between Cuban officials and Illinois businesses.
Representative Dan Burke of Chicago will be going on what he calls a learning mission for him and other legislators. The Democrat said Cuban imports and exports with Illinois have dropped dramatically in the past, but he thinks now is a good time to turn things around.
"Being an agricultural state, we have everything that they would potentially need, I think the controls over the commerce and industry in Cuba has been lessened in the last few months so there are business opportunities for our state based companies that might be pretty dramatic," Burke said.
Burke said the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba is a reason for a decrease in exports and imports.
Taxpayers won't be footing the bill for the trip, as lawmakers will be paying their own way from either personal funds or their political accounts. Burke said the group will publish a report of the trip when they return home.
This isn't the first time Illinois politicians have visited Cuba. Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan was the first sitting U.S. governor to visit Cuba after Fidel Castro took power.
Republican Congressman Tim Johnson of Urbana says he will introduce legislation that would require lawmakers to approve a budget every two years, rather than each year.
The measure would also establish an appropriations cycle starting Oct. 1 of each odd-numbered year, and any budget or appropriations bill passed by one chamber would have to be voted on in the other chamber within a two-week period. Johnson said there also couldn't be any hods, filibusters once one chamber acts.
Johnson said his budget plan will also give the federal government more time to assess how well agencies and departments use money that they are appropriated.
Illinois, which has a multi-billion dollar budget deficit, is on an annual budget cycle. Meanwhile, Indiana passes a budget every other year. Johnson said Indiana's billion dollar surplus is a testament that such a plan works.
"They have a surplus every year," Johnson said. "Look at what we're doing in Illinois. Illinois is an abyss of fiscal stewardship. No state in the union is operating worse than Illinois, and it has for years. So, if Indiana is our partial model, and looking at the results they have, I in many ways am glad to look at the model."
But John Ketzenberger, president of the non-partisan Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute, said there isn't much connection between his state's budget cycle and its surplus. He noted that there are other reasons why Indiana has a surplus.
"There were more than a billion dollars in cuts," Ketzenberger explained. "When the recession started, more than a billion dollars in reserve, and the state used about $2 billion dollars in federal stimulus money over the course of the recession."
Ketzenberger said Indiana's biennial budget plan has helped the state by encouraging more fiscal discipline.
Johnson is running for re-election in a newly drawn 13th congressional district, which includes Champaign, Decatur, Bloomington, Springfield, and the Metro East area near St. Louis. He said he expects to get bipartisan support for his legislation.
His Democratic challenger, David Gill of Bloomington, said he would also support a two-year window for approving the federal budget. However, Gill criticized Johnson, saying his decision to vote against raising the nation's debt ceiling shows he doesn't have any credibility in tackling budget issues.
"The fact that he voted against that bipartisan deal to raise the deficit after the Democrats had compromised, and bent over backwards in terms of spending cuts and any kind of increased revenues," Gill said. "That makes me question where he's coming from and how much of his proposal for a two-year budget simply is playing politics."
Gill ran unsuccessful bids against Johnson in 2004, 2006, and 2010. Former Illinois lawmaker, Democrat Jay Hoffman of Collinsville, is also considering a run for the Congressional seat, but he hasn't announced his candidacy.
An Urbana agency that treats victims of drug and alcohol abuse has again lost funding for its detox program, and this time it may be for good.
Prairie Center Health Systems CEO Bruce Suardini said it is doubtful the $450,000 will be restored by lawmakers this fall. In September of 2008, the program shut down for six months before funds were reinstated.
Suardini said the detox program still sees about 750 people per year, and after cutting off referrals Thursday night, he said more addicts won't get the appropriate treatment.
"We watch the clients carefully because it's life-threatening," he said. "So a lot of people who will now probably end up in an ER room will get treated for the day and released. And they really don't have a chance to look at the addiction and get into a long-term care kind of way to combat that addiction."
Cuts to those programs statewide equal 28-million dollars. Suardini says while a number of area legislators would back a supplemental bill to restore that money this fall, it would require 3/5ths majority in each chamber.
"The chances of that happening, and total money being restored in the state of Illinois - I'm just more pessimistic about that because of the volume of things that are on the (General) Assembly's plate," he said. "So I don't see that coming back."
But Suardini said other programs for residential care and outpatient clinics, including one in Danville, will continue to operate. But he said reduced staffing levels means clients will have to be put on a waiting list.
Meanwhile, Suardini said Prairie Center has ended talks with Community Elements in Champaign (formerly the Mental Health Center of Champaign County) about a potential merger. He said state funding mechanisms forced clients to use services separately, and a merger wasn't feasible at this time.
Community Elements CEO Sheila Ferguson says the decision was solely Prairie Center's, and was disappointed the two sides couldn't work something out.
Illinois Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon wants schools to know she isn't gunning for them.
Simon was recently appointed by Gov. Pat Quinn to lead a commission tasked with finding ways to cut school district administration costs and redirect funding back to students.
The commission begins its work with an eye on the high number of districts in the state. Officials say Illinois has about 870 districts. That's the third-highest number in the country behind California and Texas.
Quinn raised some hackles when he talked about school consolidation in this year's budget address. But Simon insists her effort isn't about cutting schools or reducing districts just for numbers' sake.
She says her goals for the Classrooms First Commission are to make districts more efficient and schools better equipped to educate students.
The University of Illinois plans to ask the state for about five percent more money in the coming fiscal year.
The school plans for its budget to top $5 billion.
A university trustees' committee on Wednesday reviewed plans for a budget just over $5 billion for the 2012 fiscal year. The News-Gazette in Champaign reports that would be 5.2 percent more than the 2011 budget. The proposed budget must be cleared by trustees before it's considered by the governor, General Assembly and Illinois Board of Higher Education.
The state is now $313 million behind on money it owes the university from past appropriations. The state government is unable to keep up with money it has promised universities and other institutions because of a multi-billion dollar budget deficit.
A University of Illinois panel looking for ways to save money in the school's administration says it's nearly halfway toward its goal of saving $60 million over the next three years.
A report on the savings was provided to The Associated Press on Tuesday, one day before it's presented to the Board of Trustees. The administrative working group says the university has achieved $26 million in recurring savings stemming from changes in procurement, information technology and off-campus leasing, among other areas.
More than half of the $26 million comes from centralizing how the university buys supplies, from copy paper to computers.
The university says the savings program was launched in late 2009 as the school's three campuses and hospitals struggle with less money and slow payments from the state.
A physician from McLean County says his career away from politics should serve as an advantage as he pursues a seat in the Illinois Senate.
Republican Tom Pliura of Le Roy is running in the re-drawn 51st district, consisting of mostly rural towns in ten east central Illinois counties. He will face current state representative Chapin Rose in the primary.
Pluira said having real world experience as both an emergency room doctor and a lawyer will help hold elected officials accountable. He said his campaign won't be about personal attacks, but it will upset the status quo.
"I am going to challenge some long-standing, long held, positions by both sides, and inevitably, that will probably invoke a defensive posture on both sides of the aisle," Pluira said. "I'm not afraid to do that."
A doctor for 25 years, Pliura says he's seen many patients lately carrying cards for both Blue Cross-Blue Shield as well as Medicaid, but only the latter is billed. He says that's putting an unfair burden on the Medicaid rolls.
"There's no ability for the state to check that," said Pliura. "To see if that individual who now qualifies for Medicaid because the state has loosened up and basically tripled the rolls. The state's now paying a bill when in fact Blue Cross Blue Shield got the premium for that insurance policy. We're going to stop that."
Pluira said Illinois needs to rein in spending rather than raise taxes to solve the budget crisis. The emergency room physician also says he'll push to make the state friendlier to small businesses, as well as for term limits in the legislature. Pliura has never run for public office, but if elected, he said he will serve no more than two terms.
Approval of the first state takeover of troubled public schools in Indiana is set for a vote by the State Board of Education.
The board is scheduled to vote Monday on a proposal by the state schools chief that the state assume control of four troubled high schools and a middle school that have seen years of low test scores.
State school superintendent Tony Bennett announced last week that would recommend state takeover of Arlington, Howe and Manual high schools and a middle school in Indianapolis and Roosevelt High School in Gary. School management companies would evaluate the schools for a year and run them starting with the 2012-13 academic year.
Indianapolis Public Schools officials have threatened to sue to stop the takeovers of Arlington and Howe high schools.
Plans for a wind farm in Champaign County drew mostly spectators in the first of what could be several hearings before the county's Zoning Board of Appeals.
About 60 people came to hear from Chicago-based developer Invenergy discuss its project. Champaign County's portion of the large farm would mean 30 turbines north of Royal, producing 48 megawatts of power. More than 100 turbines will be located in Vermilion County, where a building permit was approved last spring.
The majority of those who spoke supported Invenergy's plans to erect 30 wind turbines in the northeast part of the county, north of Royal. But some had concerns about the wind farm's impact on property values. And others had questions about the road agreements that Invenergy has yet to reach with township governments. Deanne Simms of Penfield called the prospect of being surrounded by turbines 'disturbing,' and she questioned the impact on property values, and Invenergy's road agreement at the end of the wind farm's life span.
"So my question is whatever standard they come down to when they leave, who's going to pay to fix the roads?" she said. "Whose taxes are going up to pay for that?"
But Philo resident Michael Herbert said Invenergy has been an economic boon for his electrical workers' union, providing jobs with more than 350 turbines in the counties served by its members.
"This project and Invenergy, having worked with them before, they built quality projects," he said. "And having driven out on on the roads after these projects are done, the roads are as good or better when completed."
The company's business development manager, Greg Leutchman, said the first hearing presented a chance for area residents to form their own opinion. But before the project can move forward, he said the road agreement must be finalized, as well as ones for decommissioning the turbines, and land reclamation.
"With those agreements, we just want to make sure that we're taking the right information into account, that we're talking to the right people," Leutchman said. "Getting the agreements done to make sure they work for the county and the townships as well as creating a successful project."
Four more ZBA wind farm hearings are scheduled through next month. But County Planning and Zoning Director John Hall said it is better the meetings stretch into October than disturb what he calls a 'delicate negotiation' that's gone on over two years, with still nothing in writing with landowners. Invenergy still has to settle road agreements, as well as decommissioning and reclamation plans.
The next SBA hearing on the wind farm proposal is set for Sept. 1.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
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