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Quinn request shows budget process flaw

Published: Friday, Nov. 1, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST

Gov. Pat Quinn is asking Illinois lawmakers for an extra $221 million so the state can finish out the fiscal year.

In a draft received by the Herald & Review’s Springfield bureau, Quinn’s administration says the money is needed to pay the back wages of state workers and to restore funding for the Department of Corrections and other departments.

The request illustrates why state government is in the financial shape it’s in. It doesn’t appear that Quinn is considering reducing government spending to accommodate some bills that will need to be paid.

About $112 million of Quinn’s request is to pay back wages owed to about 25,000 state workers. Quinn last year refused to pay raises owed to workers under the state’s old labor contract, arguing the General Assembly failed to provide the money in the previous budget. The state’s largest employee union sued the state and won a reprieve in court for some of those employees. It appears the state owes the workers the money, but payment hasn’t been made.

Quinn has also requested $40.5 million for the Illinois Department of Corrections. About $12 million of that request is due because of a court decision awarding damages to a former inmate who suffered brain damage after not getting medication for epilepsy. Another $25 million would be used to fund a shortfall in the department’s budget. Quinn closed some corrections facilities last year, which prevented the department’s shortfall from being greater, said Abdon Pallasch, deputy director of the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget.

The Illinois State Police has requested $1.8 million to train another class of cadets to replace retiring troopers, and the Department of Human Services is asking for $31 million to help implement the state’s new concealed-carry law, the document notes.It’s not clear how the General Assembly will handle the request. The General Assembly could address the issue in next week’s veto session, or could wait until January.

The process shows a weakness in the state’s budgeting process. Some of these expenses were known when the budget was approved in May. A budget isn’t worth much if departments aren’t required to hold their expenses in check.

One has to wonder how this will fit into the ongoing discussions about the state’s unfunded pension liability. Until the state’s pension plans are changed, money in the general fund budget for other items will be difficult to obtain.

However this is resolved, one thing is clear: The state’s budget process is inadequate and the ones paying for that are taxpayers.

(Decatur) Herald & Review

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