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SPRINGFIELD  —  Gov. Pat Quinn will deliver his vision for a state budget Wednesday and is expected to take about an hour to explain how he wants to spend billions of taxpayer dollars on schools, health care, social services and Illinois’ most pressing problem — public pensions.

By Benjamin Yount

SPRINGFIELD  —  Gov. Pat Quinn will deliver his vision for a state budget Wednesday and is expected to take about an hour to explain how he wants to spend billions of taxpayer dollars on schools, health care, social services and Illinois’ most pressing problem — public pensions.

But there are just four numbers that taxpayers need to remember about the multibillion dollar budget that will be crafted in Springfield. 

$35 billion

The Illinois House has spent weeks trying to figure out just how much money the state will bring-in this year. State Rep. David Harris, R-Arlington Heights, said the tax haul for the state’s main checkbook, the general revenue fund, will be about $35 billion.

“That is about all we have to spend,” Harris said.

That $35 billion soon will become a spending cap, the Illinois House will adopt the budget cap and force Quinn to live within their limit.

But State Sen. Dan Kotowksi, D-Park Ridge, said the House is ignoring a couple of billion dollars that could be spent.

“We have nearly $2 billion in other funds,” Kotowski said Monday. “We need to look at the budget in its totality.”

Kotowski wants to use some of that money, which is either paid into special funds or directly transferred out of the budget, to avoid education cuts or pay the state’s mountain of old bills.

If Illinois does bring in $35 billion in the next budget year, that will be almost $1 billion more than last year, but Harris said no one should get excited.

“Even though we may be bringing in a billion dollars more, the pension payment is going up a billion dollars,” Harris said.

$8 billion

“This year’s pension payment is $1 billion higher than last year. And last year’s pension payment was $1 billion higher than the year before,” said Jonathan Ingram, pension reform director at the Illinois Policy Institute.

Illinois will pay nearly $8 billion for its five retirement systems when you add in all of the costs.

Quinn’s budget office would not comment on the increase, saying the governor will address pensions during Wednesday’s speech.

The governor has said several times in recent week that pension reform needs to be the top priority for lawmakers.

Harris said the increased pension payment is squeezing out money for all other areas of state government, and will continue to do so unless lawmakers change the defined benefit retirement plans for public workers.

“If we didn’t have a $1 billion increase in our pension bill we could give more money to education, more money to health care, more money to roads,” Harris said.

$400 million

Illinois schools know not to expect much from the state. Schools have seen the state’s education budget cut for the past two years, and are expecting the next state budget to be a three-pete.

“We fully expect that K-12 education will be seeing a significant budget cut in FY ’14. The governor will likely call for his plan to cut education by $400 million,” said Ben Schwarm, deputy executive director at the Illinois Association of School Boards. “Regardless, legislators have already told us to expect another 9 percent reduction in General State Aid.”

Schwarm said that cut would have Illinois spending as much on elementary and high schools in 2014 as the state did in 2008.

The Illinois State Board of Education last month asked for an increase in its budget, but lawmakers said school officials needed to get in touch with “reality.”

4 percent

The details of a new contract between the state  and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees are still trickling out, but it appears state workers are being promised a raise.

Neither Quinn’s office or an AFSCME spokesman would comment on the agreement.

But just because the governor has promised a raise, that does not mean lawmakers will agree to fund the raises.

“Remember that (last year) we passed a resolution saying we didn’t think anything was appropriate. In other words a 0 percent increase in the cost of living allowance,” Harris said.

He’s quick to say that the legislature, not the governor, decides how much money will spent and where that money will be spent.

AFSCME has sued to force Illinois get promised pay raises in the past. A judge in Chicago ruled in late 2012 that Illinois must pay what is promised in a contract. But the judge also said he could not force the Legislature to spend money it is not willing to spend.

Quinn will deliver his budget at noon Wednesday.

Contact Benjamin Yount at Ben@IllinoisWatchdog.org

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