* As I told subscribers this morning, there’s just no good budgetary news today…
Newly fiscally conservative Democrats in the Illinois House unveiled numbers Thursday they say will limit state spending. Lawmakers said they will base the next state budget on $33.2 billion in state revenue. […]
Quinn’s budget office came up with a $33.9 billion number. The differences stem from varied estimates as to how much Illinois will get from the new personal and corporate income tax increase passed in January. COGFA is guessing $2.1 billion. Quinn’s budget office is guessing $1.8 billion.
The governor’s spending plan comes with a price tag of more than $35 billion.
Notice the difference between the governor’s proposed spending and the House’s new revenue projections. About $2 billion.
The plan, though, is for Bradley and other Revenue Committee members to talk to appropriations committee chairs to determine how much money each will have to allocate. Those committees deal with broad areas of government, such as elementary and secondary education, higher education, human services, public safety and general services.
“We will allocate as fairly as possible,” Bradley said. […]
The House is also only half the equation. The state budget must be approved by the Senate as well, and the Senate is taking its own approach to the budget.
“The Senate president is aware of the House’s approach, but the Senate Democratic caucus will not rely on House projections,” said Rikeesha Phelon, spokeswoman for Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago. “We will do our own evaluations while analyzing (various revenue estimates).”
* And then there’s the pension problem…
The financial hole in Illinois’ government pension systems grew even larger last year, the state auditor reported Thursday — a problem that tends to increase pressure on a state budget already stretched too far.
The long-term gap between what Illinois owes future retirees and the money available to pay them jumped 21 percent under a new measuring system, Auditor General William Holland reported. Even under the old system, the gap grew by 10 percent.
Illinois government employees, downstate teachers and university staff have been promised $139 billion worth of retirement benefits, but the pension systems have only $63 billion in assets. Eventually, the state will have to come up with money to make up that difference. […]
The amount owed [for pensions] in the next budget will top $5.4 billion, the auditor said. That’s part of the massive budget deficit haunting Illinois.
* Regardless of the hole, some people are very worried about the cuts already on the table…
More than two dozen seniors and advocates from local social service agencies gathered Thursday at the Decatur-Macon County Senior Center to protest the cuts to senior services in Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposed budget.
The budget calls for the elimination of the Circuit Breaker and Illinois Cares Rx programs, which assist low-income seniors and people with disabilities. Among the benefits of the programs are access to transportation and help paying for prescription drugs and property taxes. […]
“Please don’t balance the budget on the backs of low-income seniors,” Groendal said, adding that some who rely on the programs could face hospitalization, life in a nursing home or even death without them.
She shared part of a letter she wrote to Quinn, including some possible alternatives to cutting the programs completely - part of her “tweak it, don’t take it” approach.
* Meanwhile, State Superintendent of Education Christopher Koch is saying that suburban schools won’t have to worry too much about Gov. Pat Quinn’s consolidation idea…
For any unit district, there wouldn’t be as high a need for consolidation,” Koch said. “But we do have an issue in some populated areas of a disconnect with some high schools and their feeder elementaries. The need for consolidation really depends on the region. And communities have to be engaged in that conversation.”
Gov. Pat Quinn pitched the elimination of about 600 school districts via consolidation in his budget address last month. The idea is to save $100 million by reducing unnecessary administrative costs.
But Koch said that may not be a realistic goal or even the best selling point for consolidation. Indeed, consolidation may not even be on the table when it comes to most suburban school districts, he said.
“It’s an issue of what kids have access to,” Koch said. “In some areas of the state it’s hard for kids to have access to an advanced placement course or a rigorous curriculum. We know that that’s going to make a huge difference for them in being successful in college and careers.”
* And, as expected, one consolidation proposal was at least temporarily shelved while others are not being rushed…
Backlash over one plan reportedly has caused its sponsor to change his mind on the bill, which was scheduled for discussion in a committee meeting Thursday morning. That bill, sponsored by state Rep. Robert Rita (D-Blue Island), would have dissolved all school districts in the state, replacing them with one district per county, effective in July 2012.
Several other consolidation plans have been introduced in the state House and Senate this spring.
State Rep. Frank Mautino (D-Spring Valley) said it’s not likely any of those will be rushed through the General Assembly. The deadline to file bills passed last week, and committees have about three weeks to review bills.
More on that county school consolidation idea…
State Rep. Richard Morthland, R-Moline, has received more than 200 e-mails from school officials voicing their concern.
“I’ve heard from superintendents and school board members across the state, literally, everywhere in the state, because I am on the committee that was hearing this before it would go to the floor,” said Morthland, a member of the House Counties and Townships Committee.
* IL Dept. of Insurance head McRaith on short-list for U.S. insurance czar: The Obama administration was expected soon to name an Illinois state insurance regulator to head the new Federal Insurance Office, sources familiar with the matter said on Thursday.
* Lawmakers to DHS: Provide better services with less money
* Taxes not enough, Republicans want schools to charge more for Drivers’ Ed
* Taxpayers can’t afford costly tuition waivers: For years, Illinois taxpayers have been subsidizing tuition waivers for students selected by legislators and the children of state university employees. Sen. Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, wants the practice to end. She’s right, and the Illinois General Assembly should follow her lead.
* Editorial: State can’t get fiscal house in order if its books remain muddled
* EIU president won’t predict tuition hikes
* Tribune Editorial: Collective solutions - Will public employee unions confront fiscal reality?
* Chris Christie: Collective Bargaining Something ‘I Love’
* Illinois moves to close troubled nursing home