Quinn signs budget; Capitol upgrades put on hold

2014-07-01T00:01:00Z Quinn signs budget; Capitol upgrades put on holdKURT ERICKSON H&R Springfield Bureau Chief Herald-Review.com

SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Pat Quinn who delayed spending money to fix leaks in the Executive Mansion roof and now he says upgrades to the Capitol should be put on hold, too.

In action Monday, the Democrat from Chicago approved much of the state's $35.7 billion spending plan for the fiscal year, beginning today.

But, he used his veto pen to remove language related to the renovation of the centerpiece of state government, citing "excessive flourishes" made in a 2012 upgrade of the historic building's west wing.

"While ensuring the Capitol building is modern and accessible to all people in Illinois is a priority, the state cannot afford to move forward with additional renovations this year," he said.

The move is only symbolic because plans for further work on the facility have not been completed. But, it fits in with his push to cast himself as a populist heading into the November general election.

Quinn, who faces Republican businessman Bruce Rauner, signed off on spending $40,000 to fix leaks in the mansion on Monday after months of allowing the problems to damage bedrooms in the 1850s-era facility. Workers had been forced to remove historic furnishings from the affected areas.

At the Capitol, renovations have been ongoing for several years, including the controversial installation of copper-clad doors on the west wing.

In addition to halting more work on the building, the governor also borrowed an idea voiced by Rauner just two weeks ago, saying he wants to reduce the state's fleet of airplanes.

Quinn instructed state purchasing officials to sell nine of the state's 21 aircraft, including seven from the Illinois Department of Transportation and two from the Illinois State Police. It was not clear how much money would be pared from the $7 million currently spent on the planes.

The Illinois Republican Party was quick to point out that Quinn recently called a similar suggestion by Rauner a budgetary "prank."

State Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth, who has long championed the sale of the state's air fleet, called the governor's move a "step in the right direction."

"It (the air fleet) was just a bad symbol that people in Springfield are out of touch," Mitchell said.

While the cuts are designed to be politically popular, they'll do little to correct major flaws in the overall spending blueprint.

Lawmakers left town in May having approved an extra $100 million for schools, but other state agencies could face significant cuts if the state's temporary tax increase expires as scheduled on Jan. 1.

During testimony to House and Senate members this spring, top officials from a variety of agencies outlined a number of doomsday scenarios that would unfold if the tax hike isn't extended, including the closure of prisons and the release of thousands of inmates.

“While legislators didn't do their job on the budget, I will continue to do mine,” Quinn said. “Reducing the budget and identifying additional efficiencies will help minimize the impact of cuts in vital services and maintain our hard-won fiscal gains. While there's more work to do, we must ensure the state lives within its means.”

Rikeesha Phelon, spokeswoman for Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said, "There are going to be more tough choices moving forward."

The threat of cuts could become a focal point in the hotly contested race for governor. Rauner opposes extending the income tax but hasn't outlined a comprehensive plan for how to grapple with the loss of an estimated $1.6 billion in revenue if the tax rolls back from its 5 percent rate to 3.75 percent.

Rauner called the budget "broken."

"In five years of Quinn budgets, we’ve seen higher taxes and decimated education funding, and the results have been the highest unemployment in the Midwest and too many failing schools. We need to fundamentally shake up the way Springfield does business and enact structural reforms to fix our broken state government," the political newcomer from Winnetka said.

State Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, minority party spokesman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, skewered the governor's move to cut spending on the Capitol.

"This is a phony cut from a phony budget. Why would Pat Quinn try to convince people that he is reining in spending by cutting an appropriation that he knows wasn’t even going to be spent this year? This phony cut will have zero impact on the state budget in Fiscal Year 2015.

In the meantime, Illinoisans will continue to live under the economic insecurity created by Gov. Quinn’s poor fiscal choices," Murphy said.

kurt.erickson@lee.net|(217) 782-4043

Copyright 2015 Herald-Review.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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