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Illinois Senate leader warns of $3B budget hole

Published: Monday, Feb. 17, 2014 1:53 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, Feb. 17, 2014 11:33 p.m. CDT
Caption
(AP photo)
Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, smiles as pension legislation passes Dec. 3 at the state Capitol in Springfield. Warning that the state may be facing a nearly $3 billion budget gap, Cullerton called on Republican gubernatorial candidates to offer solutions.

CHICAGO – Senate President John Cullerton warned Monday of a nearly $3 billion state budget gap – including a $1.6 billion revenue dip with the expiring income tax increase – and called on Republicans running for Illinois governor to offer solutions.

Cullerton said he held a budget briefing Monday because many Republicans objected to Gov. Pat Quinn delaying his budget address by more than a month, from Feb. 19 to March 26. GOP lawmakers called it a political move because the speech now falls after the March 18 primary and Quinn is seeking re-election. Quinn has said he needed more time for long-range planning.

Cullerton said he scheduled the news conference without Quinn's urging and previewed details expected at a hearing Wednesday in Springfield. Cullerton said slashing $3 billion would translate into roughly 27 percent across-the-board cuts. In education that could mean thousands of teacher layoffs. He said savings from Illinois' new pension overhaul – which faces legal challenges – wouldn't factor into the budget and he predicted difficult choices ahead.

The Senate president didn't offer his own ideas, aside from saying everything is on the table. That includes extending an income tax increase that expires in January 2015. He said Republican gubernatorial candidates – particularly state Sens. Kirk Dillard and Bill Brady – should be more active in budgeting, especially since the plan lawmakers have to approve by the end of May extends into 2015.

The other GOP candidates are Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford and businessman Bruce Rauner.

"This isn't a budget just for Pat Quinn. ... It's not theoretical," Cullerton said. "[Some GOP candidates] are in the Senate. They're campaigning. ... We need to have, as part of that debate, what's their solution for this $3 billion hole?"

Republican candidates said Quinn has to offer solutions first.

"Quinn's the governor. I'm not," Dillard said. "Delaying the budget is something a rookie governor does – not after five years. He did so for political purposes to see who his opponent would be and give the public half of the time it would have to review [the budget]."

Brady said Quinn's delaying the address doesn't send a message of confidence to businesses. Rauner spokesman Mike Schrimpf said the budget briefing with another top Democrat asking for bipartisan help was an indicator of Quinn's failed leadership.

Quinn, a Chicago Democrat who faces one lesser-known primary challenger, has said he needed time to develop a five-year spending blueprint. His office says governors have pushed back budget speeches in the past. Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said Quinn inherited a fiscal crisis and has been "rebuilding the state one hard step at a time." She said Quinn has cut state spending by more than $1 billion, overhauled Medicaid and signed a pension overhaul.

Republican leaders said the news conference showed poor leadership for Democrats.

"Considering Governor Quinn and the Democrat majority's dismal record, it is no surprise they would try to deflect from their responsibility," Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno said in a statement. "The underlying problems in state government have to be fixed in order for any budget to succeed." She said lawmakers must enact policies that will boost jobs. ___ Follow Sophia Tareen at http://twitter.com/sophiatareen .

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