Friday, February 17, 2012
On Wednesday, Feb. 22, Governor Quinn will deliver his annual budget address, an address that Senator LaHood, hopes will go into greater depth in detailing how the Governor plans to address Illinois’ overwhelming financial burdens.
“The Governor’s State of the State address was full of very positive rhetoric, but light on substance,” says LaHood. “He said that we are ‘back on track,’ we’re not and I would like to know how he plans to truly put Illinois ‘back on track’ toward fiscal health.”
LaHood noted that even after a 67 percent income tax increase was passed, Illinois is still on an unsustainable path. As debt and unemployment continue to rise, and the state’s credit rating continue to be lowered, Senator LaHood is interested to learn how the Governor intends to phase out the tax increase as planned.
According to projections the Governor’s administration released in early January, Illinois faces a deficit of more than $500 million in the current fiscal year, not including $2 billion in Fiscal Year 2012 Medicaid obligations that will be deferred into the next fiscal year. For the coming fiscal year, the Governor's office promised a tightly balanced budget that would spend $33.7 billion, based on $34.1 billion in projected revenues. Ideally, that budget would keep spending slightly under revenues, and allow for a modest surplus that could be used to reduce the state's backlog of bills. But, achieving that goal will be far from easy.
Under the outline presented by the budget office, virtually all state spending must remain flat for the next three years. In order to achieve a balanced budget there could be no increase in education, public safety, welfare and healthcare spending. That's a tall order, given that current Medicaid projections show that Illinois would need to spend about $3 billion more next year just to retain the program’s current level of services and prevent the existing backlog of bills from growing.
Senator LaHood is eager for more information on how Gov. Quinn plans to address the unsustainable costs associated with Illinois’ Medicaid and public pension systems, which are two of the most pressing issues facing Illinois. Both programs—and the associated costs—are growing at an alarming rate, elbowing out other essential public services.
Governor Quinn has indicated that he will propose to cut Medicaid by $2 billion and hold Medicaid spending to current levels. However, that would still not be enough to rein in the projected growth of the program. Unless serious action is taken to address Medicaid obligations, it’s estimated that within five years the annual cost of the program could reach $12 billion and the bill backlog could jump to $21 billion.
Senate GOP lawmakers said a good first step to reel in Medicaid costs will be to implement bipartisan Medicaid reforms signed into law in 2011. While pleased that the administration appears to finally be taking steps to put the bipartisan reforms into place, LaHood says there are still concerns about apparent foot-dragging by the administration. Though it has been more than a year since the reforms were approved by lawmakers, none of the reforms have been implemented. In time, these reforms would save the state billions of dollars.
Republicans would also like to hear from the Governor on several other issues, including his proposed closure of the Tinley Park Mental Health Center and a developmentally disabled facility in Jacksonville, ending the scandal-plagued Legislative Scholarship program, and his plans for attracting and retaining employers and jobs.
The Senate GOP Caucus underscored their willingness to work with the Governor and the Democrat majorities in the House and the Senate to address the crises facing Illinois. Senate Republicans have consistently advocated for the spending cuts and sweeping reforms needed to for Illinois to achieve fiscal stability.