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Budget draws mixed reviews

Rezin, Roth bash Quinn’s plan, Cloonen remains noncommital

Reviews from local leaders are mixed for the budget Gov. Pat Quinn outlined Wednesday in his annual budget address.

Some applaud or take exception with specific parts of the proposed 2014 budget. Others are split on party lines.

State Rep. Kate Cloonen (D-Kankakee) called for an end to “reckless, unchecked spending” in a statement that mostly avoided getting specific on the governor’s speech, while State Rep. Pam Roth (R-Morris) and State Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) bashed the governor’s budget, taking particular aim at proposed education cuts they say disproportionately affect downstate and suburban districts.

“Once again, the governor’s budget is designed to maximize the pain to education in Illinois in general, but to downstate and suburban schools in particular,” Rezin said in a statement.

“Funding for them continues to decrease, while other areas of the budget are growing out of control.”

Nearly a tenth of Quinn’s overall $62.4 billion budget consists of pension payments.

In his address Wednesday, Quinn emphatically called for reform of the current system, saying that within two years Illinois will be spending more on public pensions than on education.

“Inaction on comprehensive pension reform has left our state with less revenue for our most important policies,” Quinn said.

He said that while the state must continue to pay its full pension amount every year, reforms such as increased employee contributions and more sustainable cost-of-living adjustments must be enacted.

The Illinois Manufacturers’ Association applauded Quinn’s statements on pensions, even as they questioned the governor’s overall economic policies.

“While we appreciate the governor’s continued laser-focus on pension reform,” the organization stated in a press release, “his proposal to raise taxes on employers by nearly half a billion annually is the wrong answer.”

“We need to encourage economic growth and job creation,” the statement continued. “This tax proposal will be another chilling effect on businesses and will lead to more Illinoisians out of work.”

The governor’s budget address called for continued investment in public works projects, including repairs to roads and bridges, and called on the assembly to move “full-speed ahead” on implementing the Affordable Care Act.

“By doing so, we will create thousands of good health care jobs, even as we extend health coverage to more working people,” Quinn said.

In a statement, the Illinois Hospital Association said they were pleased Quinn recognized “the critical importance” of the state having a strong health care system.

“We agree that care coordination — when done in the right way — offers great promise to ensuring that all Illinoisians receive the right care at the right time in the right place resulting in improved outcomes and greater cost control,” the statement read.

Quinn also said that he will embrace hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as “fracking,” as means of generating jobs in the state.

“This legislation has the potential to create thousands of jobs in downstate Illinois,” he said.

Quinn said the state’s economic health also depends on paying down a backlog of bills caused by “decades of fiscal mismanagement,” which he plans to do partly by suspending “unnecessary” corporate loopholes.

“Why should we give costly, ineffective loopholes to some of the biggest and most profitable corporations on earth when we have bills to pay?” Quinn said in the address.

He also said he has cut his office budget by 5 percent and called on the General Assembly to do the same.

For local leaders, though, the biggest point of contention was the some-$400 million in cuts to education.

“It is unfair for Gov. Quinn to present this false choice between pensions and pencils,” said Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery in a statement. “Springfield lawmakers created the massive pension debt by skipping payments and borrowing more. To call that debt an education expense is not only a gimmick, but an insult to teachers everywhere.”

Montgomery said students and teachers should not suffer because of pension debts.

“Today, the Governor had a chance to lead, to endorse legislation that is fair and constitutional,” he said. “Instead, we heard the same tired rhetoric that has gotten us nowhere.”

Rep. Roth went a step further with her criticism, accusing the governor of playing politics.

“The governor is trying to create chaos in our school and communities to increase the pressure for pension reform,” Roth said in her statement.

Quinn, for his part, called the budget the most difficult he has submitted to the general assembly and said moving forward will require hard work by lawmakers.

“This year’s budget is a tough pill to swallow,” Quinn said. “But it’s only managing the symptoms of a grievous condition that threatens the fiscal health of our state.”

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