SPRINGFIELD - Unable to convince lawmakers to go along with his push to raise income and cigarette taxes, Gov. Pat Quinn announced plans to cut $1.4 billion in state spending Thursday.
Taking the brunt of the cuts are programs serving the physically and mentally disabled. There were no announced layoffs, but the state workforce will drop by about 1,000 employees by not replacing workers who leave the public sector.
"This hasn't been easy, but it has been necessary," said Quinn, who is trying to balance an underfunded budget as he seeks a full term as governor in November.
The governor tried to sound a positive note on the first day of the state's fiscal year, pointing to unemployment figures that showed a slight uptick last month.
"We're on the road to economic recovery but we have a long, long way to go," Quinn said during a lengthy press event in Chicago.
In May, lawmakers sent the Chicago Democrat a budget plan granting him wide power to manage state spending. He signed off on most of the plan Thursday, but used his veto pen to cut about $509 million out of various agency budgets. The biggest chunk is a $312 million reduction to the Department of Human Services.
Mental health care services offered on an outpatient basis will be reduced or eliminated, as will certain services to disabled residents that don't receive federal matching dollars.
"There are some vulnerable people whose services will be cut," said DHS chief Michelle Saddler.
Quinn said he tried to avoid cutting money for general education expenses and public safety programs. He said lawmakers concerned about voting for a tax hike to help close a $13 billion budget gap might change their minds after watching the election returns in November.
"After the election I think some of them may be more willing to take a look at the issue," Quinn said.
General state aid to school districts is essentially the same as last year, but $241 million was cut from a variety of grant programs. Money for student transportation and reading programs was reduced by more than $150 million.
"We were able to minimize cuts to our budget," said Illinois State Board of Education Chairman Jesse Ruiz.
State universities will see an overall cut of $96 million, which essentially reflects the absence of federal stimulus dollars this coming year.
Unlike former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Quinn did not target the prison system for cuts. Rather than threaten to lay off workers or close prisons, Quinn hopes to save $42 million by managing overtime costs.
"I wanted to preserve as many jobs as possible," Quinn said.
The governor said he would pay the state's employee pension obligation, which amounts to $4 billion this year. The monthly cost of that will mean other government services will be pinched.
The Illinois State Police will see a $15.4 million reduction, but Quinn has backed off his earlier threat to shutter district headquarters.
The Illinois Department of Public Health will see a $17 million cut. Among programs on the chopping block are a prostate cancer awareness initiative and rural health grants.
Quinn also issued an executive order aimed at cutting costs for everything from in-state travel to magazine subscriptions.
The plan does little to address a huge backlog of unpaid bills to universities, vendors and school districts.
He signed off on a plan to extend the time the state has to pay down the $4.5 billion backlog from September to December, meaning those who are waiting for checks can expect a long wait.
"I want to say to all who are owed money. you will be paid," Quinn said.
In order to manage the budget, Quinn plans to dip into special state funds to the tune of about $1 billion. He also will use the proceeds of a national tobacco settlement to help keep the state afloat.
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