Massive Cuts Coming, Even With Tax Hike - NBC Chicago

Massive Cuts Coming, Even With Tax Hike

"This is what's really happening," budget director says



    Massive Cuts Coming, Even With Tax Hike
    Thousands of teachers will be laid off state-wide under the cuts to be proposed by Governor Quinn's office.

    Gov. Pat Quinn's plan to fill the biggest deficit in Illinois history includes cuts so severe that 17,000 teachers could lose their jobs, thousands of poor families would get less help with child care and fewer state troopers would patrol the roads, a top Quinn aide said Saturday.

    Such cuts will be necessary even if lawmakers agree to the governor's call for an income tax increase, said Quinn budget director David Vaught.

    "This is the reality budget. This is what's really happening," Vaught said in an interview with The Associated Press.

    Illinois faces a roughly $13 billion deficit in the upcoming budget year, he said. That's because the state's current budget is woefully out of balance, revenues are expected to drop and expenses keep climbing. Pension costs, for instance, will jump by about $1.7 billion, Vaught said.

    On Wednesday, the Democratic governor will announce his proposal for filling the shortfall. Vaught would not discuss the size of the tax increase Quinn plans to seek, but he did outline the spending cuts -- about $2 billion.

    General education spending would fall by about $1.4 billion, he said, an 11 percent decrease. The "foundation level" of state support for each child would fall from $6,119 now to about $5,600 next year.

    Vaught estimated schools would have to lay off about 17,000 teachers.

    Republicans have scoffed at Quinn's talk of education cuts, accusing him of trying to scare voters into supporting his tax proposal.

    "I think the governor is playing a game. It's a sick game," House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, said last week.

    Quinn also will propose $150 million in cuts to human services, Vaught said. That means, among other things, less money for local organizations that provide child-care services for the working poor.

    Vaught estimated 6,000 children would be affected by the reduced hours and tighter eligibility standards likely to result from the cutbacks. Many of their parents would suffer an economic blow, he said.

    "If you take away their child care, you're also taking away their job because they can't work," Vaught said.

    Quinn, already accused by critics of endangering the public with early release of prison inmates, isn't sparing public safety from cuts. Vaught said the state police would lose about $32 million, meaning fewer troopers on the roads.

    The governor will also propose reducing state support to local governments by about $300 million, Vaught said. That and the education cuts are likely to increase pressure for cities and school boards to raise property taxes.

    Vaught argued that over the past year, Quinn has cut waste and made government more efficient. He said the number of state employees fell by 1,000 during 2009. Vaught didn't mention it, but the cash-strapped government dramatically slowed payments to schools and local organizations hired to provide state services.

    Vaught said further cuts will go beyond efficiency and hit at core services.

    The governor is generally trying to cut programs instead of eliminating them entirely, but there are exceptions, Vaught said. One example is halting all support for DuQuoin's World Trotting Derby, a major horse race.

    Vaught emphasized that the long list of cuts wouldn't be necessary if lawmakers had raised taxes last year. "If they had acted, we wouldn't be seeing these kinds of cuts," he said.

    In addition to the $2 billion in spending reductions, Quinn will propose borrowing billions of dollars to pay off long-overdue bills. Vaught said that would still leave a hole of about $5 billion to be filled by raising taxes or borrowing more money.

    Republican legislative leaders object to raising taxes, and Democratic leaders show no enthusiasm for tackling such a touchy issue during an election year.