Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn on Wednesday said he's submitting the "most difficult" budget since he took office. In his address, the Chicago Democrat issued a direct challenge to lawmakers to approve pension legislation immediately.
Attempts at an overhaul on the nearly $100 billion in unfunded pension liability have failed repeatedly, though there are currently several bills pending.
Quinn said lawmakers' inaction on the pension crisis has squeezed out spending on other services, including education. His budget calls for steep cuts to education.
"It's time for you to legislate," Quinn told lawmakers.
He says spending levels for the budget in 2014 fiscal year is the lowest since 2008.
The governor has frequently said the first thing he and legislators must take on is the $96.7 billion deficit in the state's five pension systems. On Tuesday, new budget projections showed that trying to catch up with that hole will cost Illinois nearly $7 billion — or 19 percent of the state's general revenue fund. In education, for example, the pension obligation jumped from $4.1 billion in last year's budget to $5 billion, leaving $400 million less for education.
"We have a series of reductions that the governor does not want to do," Quinn's budget chief, Jerry Stermer, told reporters at a budget briefing late Tuesday. "These are outside his vision of where we ought to be. These reductions are a direct result of no action on pensions."
The spending plan already is at odds with legislators in the House, who approved a resolution Tuesday that states general fund spending shouldn't exceed $35.08 billion — about $500 million less than Quinn's proposal. That means House lawmakers are likely to cut even more.
The entire budget totals $62.4 billion, though that includes federal grants and other money that is generally restricted to specific purposes other than day-to-day operations.
Stermer and other budget officials characterized the budget as taking the "corrective approach," meaning Quinn's administration said the budget called for paying down roughly $2 billion toward the state's backlog of bills, which currently tops more than $9 billion.
Stermer said that over the years, budget officials have resorted to "gimmickry," including not fully appropriating money for programs but not making a true cut, which contributed to the backlog.
The budget for the 2014 fiscal year calls for paying off the backlog of Medicaid and Department of Aging bills and nearly $200 million of overdue payments for the Department of Human Services by the end of the fiscal year.
The bottom line spending in several agencies remained flat, including economic development and public safety.
Copyright Associated Press