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'Slash & Burn': Quinn paints doomsday picture if no tax increase
By Joseph Ryan and John Patterson | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 5/18/2009 10:10 AM | Updated: 5/18/2009 6:31 PM

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Quinn's 'slash and burn' budget

Here is a look at what Gov. Pat Quinn said needs to be cut to make up for the state's near-$12 billion budget shortfall if income taxes are not raised:

Education

$1.5 billion: Cut school aid by $568 million and eliminate preschool for 100,000 children

Higher Education

$554 million: Cut state scholarships for more than 400,000 students

Healthcare

$1.2 billion: Cut health care funding for 300,000 children, 175,000 parents, 78,000 retired state workers and teachers along with prescription help for 172,000 seniors

Seniors

$368 million: Cut community care programs, elder abuse and neglect investigations; cut circuit breaker program

Veterans

$27 million: Close four Illinois veteran homes

Police

$294 million: Lay off half of state trooper force, release 6,000 inmates early, close juvenile and drug treatment facilities

Human Services

$769 million: cut addiction treatment for 45,000, child care, in-home disabled service

Transit

$549 million: reduces Metra, Pace, CTA and Amtrak funding

Parks

$98 million: eliminates state fairs, 4-H funding, closes half of state parks and all museums

Local Government

$1 billion cut

Criminals running free.

Fewer police to catch them.

Emergency rooms overflowing with the uninsured.

Classrooms jammed with kids. No more preschool.

More students who can't afford college.

Oh, and skyrocketing transit fares, too.

This is the picture of Illinois painted by Gov. Pat Quinn Monday as he pushed reluctant lawmakers to accept his income tax hike.

In a "slash and burn" speech before the City Club of Chicago, Quinn outlined a doomsday budget to come if lawmakers fail to pass his 50 percent increase in the income tax rate to cover an $11 billion-plus budget shortfall.

"I'm not for any of these cuts," Quinn told reporters as the legislative deadline to pass a budget looms at the end of May. "I don't believe in doomsday. I don't believe in hitting the people of Illinois below the belt."

In all, Quinn said a 37 percent cut in state spending would be required, yanking 100,000 off the state's health insurance roles while laying off 14,300 teachers and nearly 1,000 state troopers, half the force.

Beyond that, Quinn said he would have to eliminate preschool, drop elder abuse investigations, shutter veteran homes, release 6,000 inmates early, close drug treatment centers, slash child care, close half of the state's parks, gut local government funding and eliminate state subsidies to Metra, Pace, the CTA and Amtrak.

Several lawmakers argued Monday in Springfield that Quinn's threats are overblown, saying the shortfall can be bridged with manageable cuts in health care and perhaps even education.

"The point of this is to scare rank-and-file legislators into voting for a tax increase," said state Sen. Matt Murphy, a Palatine Republican. "There is a reasonable, common-sense middle ground between Governor Quinn's tax hike and his doomsday budget."

Quinn called his threats a "reality check" and said lawmakers like Murphy "don't know what they are talking about."

In the suburbs, school districts would see their budgets drop by millions of dollars, forcing sweeping teacher layoffs, elimination of extracurricular programs as well as rising fees and property taxes.

Even districts that rely most on property tax dollars in more well-off suburbs would face considerable cuts. St. Charles Community Unit School District 303 Superintendent Donald Schlomann said he would expect "some significant reductions in our teaching staff and other spending."

The district's $150 million budget counts on about $21 million in state funding.

Local governments in the suburbs would be out hundreds of millions of dollars too, putting significant strain on police officers, firefighters and the courts and prodding local tax hikes.

Arlington Heights Mayor Arlene Mulder said a state cut to her village's budget would be devastating. It remains unclear how deep of a cut suburbs like Arlington Heights would face, but the towns do rely on the state returning 10 percent of income taxes collected locally.

"This severity of a cut ... would change everyday life as we know it," Mulder said.

With state subsidies to Metra, the CTA and Pace axed, suburban transit users could also see fare hikes and service cuts, said Steve Schlickman, director of the Regional Transportation Authority.

But Schlickman also didn't expect that to pass.

"I think this is all part of the legislative process," he said.

Beyond painting a grim picture of the future without a tax hike, Quinn's threats also could serve to invigorate interest groups to fervently back his budget proposals. As Quinn was making his "slash and burn" speech, powerful state unions were already sending out statements.

"(Lawmakers) must raise revenue to prevent devastating cuts, save public services and pay the state's bills," said AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Henry Bayer.

At the same time, some amount of state cuts appear inevitable. Quinn says he has already sliced the state budget by about $1 billion. And lawmakers seem intent on making additional cuts along with any tax hikes.

"There's going to have to be some reductions," said state Sen. Donnie Trotter, a Chicago Democrat involved in budget talks.

But top lawmakers involved in the negotiations say the doomsday threats of Quinn are less likely to come to pass than his tax increases.

"We believe," Trotter said, "we should not allow these things to happen."

Ironically, Trotter could end up sponsoring this "doomsday" plan.

Senate Democrats contacted Quinn's office and said they had set aside legislation - sponsored by Trotter - and told him to have this budget plan filed by Friday. Rikeesha Phelon, spokeswoman for Senate President John Cullerton, said senators want to know if this is real or a PR stunt.

"We understand the reason for giving everybody a really clear picture of what the state's fiscal crisis is, but we're kind of past the point of scare tactics and things of that nature," Phelon said. "So we're going to ask (Quinn) to file it."