Gov. Pat Quinn called Wednesday for spending reductions, pension reform and Medicaid cuts to relieve Illinois debt. "This budget contains truths that may not be what you want to hear, but these are truths that you do need to know," Quinn said. "And I believe you can handle the truth."
Gov. Pat Quinn delivered plenty of bad news during his noon budget address, from pension and health care cuts to the closures of dozens of state facilities.
Lawmakers gave him not one round of applause through the speech until the end, though Quinn, for one, thought Illinois needed to hear about its dismal situation.
"This budget contains truths that may not be what you want to hear, but these are truths that you do need to know," Quinn said. "And I believe you can handle the truth."
Truths include the $34.8 billion Illinois debt expected in the next five years, as well as an estimated $21 billion backlog of unpaid Medicaid bills by the end of 2017 and pension disarray, per estimates released last month in a Civic Federation of Chicago report.
Quinn blamed the situation on past governors and members of the General Assembly who "clung to budget fantasies rather than confronting hard realities" and didn't invest enough into the pension system.
To right the ship, Quinn proposed spending reductions. He gave a group of lawmakers an April 17 deadline to submit a blueprint to solve the state's "pension challenges."
"Everything is on the table for our pension working group," he said. Retirement age, employer and employee contributions, and cost of living adjustments will be considered, he said.
To rescue state Medicaid, he called for a $2.7 billion reduction in the coming year. To do it lawmakers must reconsider which groups are eligible, which services are covered and the way the program is paid for, Quinn said.
The governor also proposed 59 closures and consolidations as a "hard but necessary" tactic to save money. Closures include Jacksonville and Murray developmental centers, Tinley Park and Singer mental health hospitals, Joliet and Murphysboro youth centers, and Tamms and Dwight prisons.
Quinn assured lawmakers the transition will be "safe and smart."
Things he won't cut? Early education and veteran care. Quinn said he plans to increase staff at four veterans' homes and has proposed the Hiring Veterans Tax Credit to create jobs for vets. The budget also calls for nearly $9 billion in education spending.
Quinn warned it would be a tough road ahead as many questions need answers.
"The people of Illinois are counting on us to meet these challenges head-on and to get the job done," Quinn said. "Confronting hard truths is what public service is all about."