“Illinois is sick and it’s time we take our medicine.”
That is how state Sen. Carole Pankau (R-23rd) described Illinois’ financial situation during a media event touting Republican budget proposals targeting $6.7 billion in budget cuts.
Pankau, along with fellow Republican State Senators Kirk Dillard (R-24th), Ron Sandack (R-21st), John Millner (R-28th), Chris Lauzen (R-25th) and Tom Johnson (R-48th) said their planned cuts will put Illinois’ fiscal house back in order. Dillard said if the state continues to follow the fiscal course set by Gov. Pat Quinn, the state will run an annual deficit of billions of dollars. He said if only $5 billion of savings is realized, then the state can avoid a deficit of $22 billion in five years and that Democrats in Springfield do not dispute the dire financial projection.
The senators criticized the increases on personal and corporate income taxes—something the Republicans want to see rolled back.
“It’s hard to believe that with a 67 percent income tax increase we still need to sit here talking about cutting the budget by $5 billion,” Dillard said. He added the income tax hike hurts DuPage citizens more, because fewer state dollars are spent on services in the area.
The Republicans spent the morning in Glen Ellyn outlining their budget plan. The proposed cuts include increasing healthcare premiums for state employees to save $300 million annually, saving $9 million by reducing the number of government provided cars and eliminating $2.3 million by reducing the number of state provided cell phones. The plan also includes proposals to combine the office of state treasurer and comptroller for an annual savings of $12 million and eliminate funding for the office of lieutenant governor.
Dillard said the biggest savings will come through reforming public pension plans and Medicaid.
“There can’t be any sacred cows. That’s what got us to this point in the first place,” said Sandack, who was appointed to the Senate earlier this year.
The Republicans say their pension reforms will save the state $1.35 billion annually in unfunded liability. Dillard said under the Republican measure, current employees could contribute more to stay in their current “Cadillac pension plan,” or move into a defined contribution system similar to a 401(k), or utilize the new pension plan implemented for new hires.
The plan also targets $1.3 billion in cuts to Medicaid, including reducing eligibility to certain programs like All-Kids. Millner said under the current All-Kids requirements, children from other states participate in the program. Other ways of achieving Medicaid reform include increasing co-pays, rolling back eligibility and eliminating optional services not required by the federal government. The plan also calls for implementing a Medicaid audit to eliminate fraud. Dillard said studies show that up to 10 percent of Medicaid payments are fraudulent. He said recapturing that 10 percent would amount to $1 billion. However, he said a more realistic outlook is recapturing 2.5 percent, which would amount to $250 million in savings.
The proposal also calls for cutting $725 million from education spending—about one-tenth of current education spending levels.
“There’s going to be pain… but we’re willing to make the tough decisions,” Pankau said.
But any pain from the Republican proposals would come only if the Democratic majority allows them to come to the floor. The Republican senators readily admitted they face a steep battle in the legislature, where their party is in the minority. However, they said some of their proposals are piquing the interests of colleagues across the political aisle.
If those proposals are heard, Sandack said special interest groups will line up to fight many of the suggested cuts.
The senators at the Glen Ellyn meeting admitted there is some division among the caucus members over portions of the plan. Sandack, who is also mayor of Downers Grove, said he did not support the call for reducing local government’s share of income, sales and gasoline taxes, which the plan estimates would save the state $300 million annually.
The Republican plan has already come under fire from Quinn and some economists, including Ralph Martire, who during a meeting with the Democratic Women of DuPage County.