From AP - News Headlines -

Quinn OKs New Ill. Budget, with Extra Cuts

Gov. Pat Quinn signed the new Illinois budget into law Thursday, after first trimming money for school buses, eliminating support for regional education offices and chopping Medicaid.

The Democrat suggested the cuts could be part of further negotiations.

"Implementing a budget is not a one-day event but rather a year-round process filled with robust debate and difficult decisions," Quinn said in a statement.

Quinn has repeatedly criticized the spending plan lawmakers sent him, saying it shortchanged many important services. But he cut further.

Money for Medicaid, a health program for the poor, is being cut by an additional $276 million. That brings the Department of Healthcare and Family Services budget to $14.3 billion, or about 4.5 percent below current levels.

Illinois will still have to pay for medical services, however, so less money means bills are simply paid more slowly. Unless something changes, about $1.5 billion in Medicaid bills will be left unpaid at the end of the year, adding to backlog that already amounts to $6 billion or more.

"The point is to get the interested parties to the table to negotiate in good faith" on controlling Medicaid costs, Vaught said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Transportation money the state provides to local schools will be cut by $89 million, which leaves nearly $206 million, a substantial increase.

Vaught said the purpose of that cut is to focus limited state resources on classrooms.

"That's a local function, getting the kids to school," Vaught said, referring to the transportation money as "excess" state funds.

Reducing state aid for transportation is likely to force schools to take money away from other educational services in order to keep buses running.

Quinn eliminated all the money the state provides for regional offices of education around the state. The cut of about $11.3 million does not eliminate the offices, but it would force local taxpayers to come up with the money or close the offices.

Lawmakers rejected both of Quinn's education cuts. They have the option of restoring the $376 million that Quinn cut Thursday. Unless they take action, however, Quinn's version of the budget is the one Illinois will follow for the next year.

His office said Quinn's cuts bring the key measure of state spending to $32.9 billion, about $2 billion below the previous budget. That's a reduction of roughly 6 percent.

Vaught said he didn't know the total size of the budget, including federal funds, fees and other special categories. For the previous year, it was $52.7 billion.

Quinn did not make any public appearance to discuss signing the budget. He does not have any appearances scheduled for Friday either.

The additional budget cuts are likely to frustrate groups that feel the version approved by lawmakers was already deeply flawed. It slashed money to institutions for the mentally handicapped, promised long delays in paying Medicaid bills, reduced education spending and cut money for state employees.

"This is a fundamentally broken budget, an unworkable plan that falls far short of the revenue needed to adequately support basic services," said Anders Lindall, spokesman for the Illinois division of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Lindall urged Quinn to spend at the levels needed to maintain services and then work with lawmakers to come up with more money later in the year.

But Vaught said Quinn must assume no more money will be available. "You implement right away and you do the cuts," he said.

A key question is what cuts Quinn can make. He reached a bargain with AFSCME last year in which the union agreed to make concessions and Quinn agreed not to cut jobs or close state facilities.

Vaught said Quinn will diclose more of his plans soon.

(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)