SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Facing a possible $9 billion deficit, Gov. Pat Quinn imposed new restrictions on state spending Tuesday and warned lawmakers that they'll face difficult choices in trying to balance the budget.
Quinn ordered state agencies to cut spending by 1 percent between now and June 30, when the state's fiscal year ends. He exempted education spending from the cuts, which come on top of 3 percent cuts that former Gov. Rod Blagojevich ordered earlier in the year.
The new governor also said vacant jobs won't be filled, which his office acknowledged was already the policy under Blagojevich, and ordered agencies to curtail spending on travel and equipment.
"Nobody likes to cut back, but sometimes that's what's necessary," Quinn said. "We have to make sure that state government is lean and cuts cost wherever it can."
Quinn could offer no specific figures for what his order might save the state but said it would be "in the hundreds of millions."
Spending cuts can be figured in many ways, depending on which portions of the budget are included and which aren't. But setting aside education and federal funds over which the state has little control, a 1 percent cut would amount to roughly $165 million.
The Chicago Democrat also met in private with House Democrats Tuesday afternoon, impressing the lawmakers with his knowledge of government and his apparent interest in working with them instead of butting heads.
The House members said Quinn didn't take a firm position on such key issues as raising taxes. But he made clear that balancing the budget won't be easy.
"I think he was trying to make us aware that we're going to have to be very grown-up and make some hard choices," said Rep. Julie Hamos, D-Evanston. He did say that several ways, several times. We don't know exactly what that means. Are we cutting programs? Are we raising taxes? He didn't get specific, but he did talk about being very realistic this year."
Several lawmakers said they're confident Quinn will work with them to make those decisions instead of acting unilaterally, as Blagojevich often did before he was removed from office.
State government has spent more than it has taken in for several years. The situation is even worse now, when government revenues are falling but expenses are still rising. The result is that Illinois is several billion dollars in the red for the current budget year.
Comptroller Daniel Hynes estimates if that rolls over to the next budget, which is also expected to run a deficit, the total gap could approach $9 billion.
Quinn and other Democratic leaders say all budget options are being considered, including tax increases.