* I told you last week that Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka had boasted that she could easily find $1 billion in painless cuts to the state budget that nobody would miss. I asked for the list, and I received it late yesterday…
· FISCAL OFFICE CONSOLIDATION ($12 million in savings): Combining the offices of Treasurer and Comptroller will save an estimated $12 million annually – and while we’re at it, let’s look at the Lt. Gov’s office and all the other unnecessary layers of government that exist in Illinois.
· UNIVERSAL PRESCHOOL ($100 million in savings): If we roll back this Blagojevich giveaway and require financially-able families to pay for preschool, the state would save an estimated $100 million.
· SENIORS RIDE FREE ($40 million in savings): The bill to eliminate free rides for financially-able seniors is currently on Governor Quinn’s desk – I hope he signs and saves $40 million for the state.
· LATE PAYMENT PENALTIES ($60 million in savings): The recently passed tax hike budget plan allows for 2-percent in annual growth. If we eliminate that extra spending and instead use the dollars to pay down our bill backlog, we would save the $60 million spent annually on late payment penalties.
· MEDICAID ELIGIBILITY ($480 million in savings): By moving Medicaid to a managed care system and making slight adjustments to eligibility requirements, we would save $480 million annually.
· FEDERAL TAX COLLECTION COOPERATION ($30 million in savings): The state is considering a tax collection cooperation plan with the federal government where we withhold refunds until each other’s delinquent taxes are collected. Maryland conducted a similar pilot program and collected $22 million – we estimate Illinois would get at least $30 million.
· CAPITAL PROJECTS ($30 million in savings): The state plans to spend $65 million on capital projects this year – if we scale that back to $35 million we would save the other $30 million.
· SENIOR HOME HEALTHCARE ($120 million in savings): By improving access to home health care for seniors, we would save on nursing home costs. We project it would save $120 million annually, and that number will go up as the population ages.
· MERCHANT SALES TAX PAYMENTS ($60 million in savings): Illinois allows retail merchants to retain a portion of the sales tax they collect (1.75%) throughout the year. By cutting that in half, we would save $60 million annually.
· ELIMINATE AMTRAK SUBSIDY ($26 million in savings): Illinois cannot afford to continue its subsidy to Amtrak – if that is eliminated, the state will save $26 million annually.
· ELIMINATE CAPITAL LITIGATION TRUST FUND ($20 million in savings): The General Assembly has voted to repeal the death penalty. If Gov. Quinn signs the legislation, the state would realize savings in the Capital Litigation Trust Fund.
* OK, first of all, Republicans love to attach big numbers to Medicaid savings without really explaining what they are, and half of Topinka’s billion dollars is saved via Medicaid. I asked for a breakdown, but haven’t received it yet. Also, kicking people off the Medicaid rolls would not be “painless” for those folks. And a widely hailed bipartisan Medicaid reform bill signed into law yesterday would save between $624 million to $774 million over five years. It’s not clear at the moment if any of those Topinka reforms overlap.
* The Amtrak subsidy is a favorite target of Republicans without a train station in their districts. Bill Brady had a station in Bloomington, and he was and is very pro-train. But to put this into perspective, I checked a few sources online and found one which has the cost of milling and resurfacing a four-lane rural interstate highway at about $1.2 million a mile. So, if this estimate is about on-target for Illinois, getting rid of the Amtrak subsidy is equal to repaving less than 22 miles of Interstate 55.
The suggestion of abolishing the Capital Litigation Trust Fund to realize savings is one brought up by fiscal conservatives who were mostly agnostic on the death penalty. It’s an interesting argument, but notice there’s no declaration of where she stands on the abolition bill.
Also, good luck with that battle against the Illinois Retail Merchants Association on the sales tax collection fee. It’s been tried a dozen times at least and has always failed.
* Response from Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget office…
We appreciate Comptroller Topinka’s efforts to offer specific examples on how to further reduce state spending and we will take these suggestions into consideration. Governor Quinn has reduced appropriations by $3 billion since taking office and will continue to work with legislators to make further reductions to save taxpayers money. The Governor’s budget address will take place on February 16.
* Meanwhile, Kevin McDermott reports on new legislation introduced by the House Republicans…
Illinois House Republicans have already filed a bill to repeal the state’s new income tax hike, which was passed earlier this month in the final hours of the lame duck session of the last General Assembly.
The bill (HB175) doesn’t have the proverbial snowball’s chance in you-know-where of getting even a committee hearing, of course. Democrats still control the chamber and aren’t about to play games with the tax hike, which they barely squeezed into law in the first place.
Rolling back the tax hike isn’t ultimately the point of this bill. The point is so that co-sponsors like state Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon, can send press releases like the one we got this morning– “Kay Introduces Legislation to Repeal Tax Increase'’ –which doesn’t mention anywhere in it that he’s one of a couple dozen GOP co-sponsors of the thing. Which means there are likely a couple dozen press releases under those other lawmakers’ names, going out to their local papers, each one similarly claiming credit for spearheading this doomed expedition.
(In fairness to Kay and the Repubs, this is standard practice in Springfield, and no one’s better at it than Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan.)
There is also not a single appropriations bill introduced by the Republicans to pay for this income tax hike rollback. Don’t expect one, either. Instead, expect lots of press release reprints like this one in the Carmi Times…
“…Sadly, the Chicago Democrats who passed the measure have no recognition or remorse for the severity of their actions on citizens struggling to make ends meet. Worse yet, it will not solve our long term structural deficit.”
Your thoughts on all this?