"We're Going to Be Here for a Long Time"

Lawmakers adjourn for week without budget action

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    In general, Republicans want a temporary budget so talks on a final spending plan can continue. The Democratic governor has remained optimistic that they can come to an agreement -- which now seems unlikely.

    Illinois legislators adjourned Wednesday without taking action on the budget, as Gov. Pat Quinn backed away from threats to make painful cuts to social services — deepening confusion about when the state will have a spending plan and what it will look like.

    Lawmakers went home until next week, even though the current budget expires at midnight Tuesday and no new budget plan is close to being finished.

    Officials couldn't even agree on the size of the deficit they face. Is it $11.6 billion or $9.2 billion or maybe even $7 billion?

    "We're going to be here for a long time," warned Sen. James DeLeo, D-Chicago.

    In general, Republicans want a temporary budget so talks on a final spending plan can continue. Quinn, a Democrat, has remained optimistic that they can come to an agreement — which now seems unlikely.

    Quinn had been warning that a bare-bones budget proposed by legislators would force him to slash spending for child care, drug counseling, women's health and more. But he seemed to rule out such moves Wednesday.

    "We're not going to visit all the cuts on the most fragile and vulnerable people in our society," he said.

    State government faces a historic budget crisis. New programs, rising expenses and a huge drop in revenues have combined to leave the state without enough money to cover its costs for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

    Quinn originally put the shortfall at $11.6 billion and says he and legislators have agreed on measures to trim the deficit to $9.2 billion. He wants to fill the rest of that gap with a mix of higher income taxes, spending cuts, federal aid and financial maneuvers.

    Many legislators — mostly Republicans but also some Democrats — are balking at raising income taxes. They have approved a version of the budget without any additional tax revenue.

    For weeks, Quinn insisted that plan falls billions of dollars short of covering state expenses and would require cuts of up to 50 percent to services for the state's sick and needy.

    Again and again, Quinn sought to build support for a tax increase by visiting community agencies that depend on state support to illustrate what services would be cut under the Legislature's budget proposal.

    Critics insisted Quinn was scaring people needlessly and that he would never go through with such severe cuts.

    On Wednesday, Quinn ruled out the cuts, although he didn't explain how he would avoid making them if lawmakers don't come up with additional money. He wouldn't say whether he intends to veto what he calls "the half-baked budget" that legislators have passed but not yet sent to his desk for final action.

    "We're not going to be cutting the heart and soul out of Illinois' human services. I never support that and never will, and so we will not allow that to take place," Quinn said.

    Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, said she was indignant that the Democratic majority decided to leave with the budget still up in the air.

    She called again for a temporary budget to keep state government operating after June 30 while officials negotiate a long-term solution.

    Legislators met for two days this week to consider technical issues related to a public works program and to address the budget.

    They didn't complete either chore. The Senate did, however, pass a resolution reaffirming Illinois' sister-state relationship with Taiwan.