SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Pat Quinn on Thursday delivered what he called phase two of his plan to “manage the state budget.”

By Benjamin Yount

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Pat Quinn on Thursday delivered, what he called phase two of his plan to “manage the state budget.”

Quinn’s plan would close seven state facilities and lay off more than 1,900 workers. The governor laid the blame for the closures and jobs cuts at the feet of the General Assembly and the Legislature’s $33.2 billion budget for fiscal 2012.

The governor made numerous claims, most notably, that the budget limits his ability to spend state money.

Illinois Statehouse News consulted lawmakers, former government officials and advocates to check the truth behind Quinn’s claims.

Quinn claim: “We clearly do not have enough money in the budget that was appropriated, by the Legislature, to pay the personnel and facility costs of a number of our facilities and people who work for the state of Illinois.”

Reality: “The short answer is yes, that’s true,” said state Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley.

Mautino helped write the $33.2 billion budget in the House this year. He said the budget approved by lawmakers assumed state services would be cut.

Mautino said lawmakers tried to “mitigate” the severity of those cuts by delaying Medicaid payments to providers of mental health services and services for those with developmental disabilities. A longer payment cycle was supposed to shield Illinois’ vulnerable population from drastic cuts.

Mautino is quick to say, however, that as austere as the House budget is, Quinn’s budget proposal was lacking as well.

“The governor’s budget was based on a borrowing plan of $8.75 billion. That borrowing plan never occurred; you don’t have that money available,” said Mautino. “The House budget was based on what monies that we reasonably expected to have in.”

Quinn’s proposed budget was $34.6 billion.

Quinn claim: “Managing the budget is something you have to do on a daily basis. And you cannot spend money that is not appropriated by the General Assembly.”

Reality: Quinn is correct on both accounts. Money comes into the Capitol in spurts, as taxes are collected or as federal funds are released, for example. That requires management.

But Mike Lawrence, a former statehouse journalist and press secretary for former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar, said management also means being involved in the crafting of the budget.

Quinn “waited until the General Assembly sent him the budget to start indicating that the budget sent to him would have draconian consequences,” said Lawrence. “He entered the process too late, in my opinion.”

State Rep. Patti Bellock, R-Hinsdale, said Quinn got this budget, in part, because of the limitations he placed on lawmakers.

“We could not change what the governor promised before the election, in that he was not going to close any institutions or lay anyone off,” Bellock said. “We just had to deal with the balance budget and making sure that we do not spend more than the revenues we take in.”

The governor also is correct that he cannot spend money that has not been approved, or appropriated by the General Assembly. Quinn lost his ability to move money within the state budget this year. Previous governors could move 2 percent of an agency’s budget only within that agency.

This leads to the next claim.

Quinn claim: “In previous years, the past two, the General Assembly (approved) lump sum budgets. They basically did not want to make any cuts. They told me several times: ‘You the governor make the cuts.’ This year the General Assembly wanted to do it a different way. They wanted a line-item budget.”

Reality: Quinn is not the only governor to be handed a lump sum budget. Mautino said former governors George Ryan, a Republican, and Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat, also were given most of the responsibility to spend the state’s money. Mautino said Illinois’ disastrous financial situation forced a change.

“In this budget, since a lot of very hard choices were made, that extraordinary power of transfer was not given,” said Mautino.

Lawrence points out that past governors used transfer power to delay Medicaid and pension payments, and that helped create Illinois’ multi-billion dollar deficit.

“The problems are so large that that kind of maneuvering is not going to work,” Lawrence said.

The state House produced a line-item budget after weeks of legislative hearings and closed-door meetings. Mautino said the $33.2 billion budget price tag came as a result of that long process and hard work.

Quinn is blasting the legislative line-item budget now. But in April, the governor said he wanted lawmakers to take the lead.

“I actually like the fact that legislators are, line item by line item, going through the budget. My first two years, I was told they didn’t want to do that; they didn’t want to make cuts. They wanted the governor to make all the cuts,” said Quinn.

What’s next: Quinn said he is “willing to work” with lawmakers during the fall veto session to avoid the closings and layoffs. The General Assembly is due in Springfield Oct 25.

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