Democrats propose $1.3 billion in cuts to state budget

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Ten Democratic legislators offered their proposals for state budget cuts Monday as members of the state House reconvened to tackle Illinois’ budget, which remains $13 billion in the hole.
Here are their proposed cuts and savings:
• $300 million from K-12 education
• $300 million by renegotiating and rebidding all state contracts
• $300 million from 5 percent cuts from all state executive agencies
• $200 million from Medicaid
• $100 million from higher education
• $100 million from making state retirees pay some health care
That adds up to about $1.3 billion.
They’d also cut from 50 cents to 39 cents the mileage they and their staffers get reimbursed for driving to Springfield. Under current practice, taxpayers give Chicago-area legislators a check for $200 every time they or a staffer driver to Springfield. A round-trip ticket on Amtrack from Chicago to Springfield costs $36. That reduction would save $6 million, they say.
The 10 Democrats, eight from the House of Representatives and two from the state Senate, said they did not want to cut money from the budget, especially from education, but they recognized that there was still fat to cut.
“Being the Appropriations chair for elementary and secondary ed, that’s not easy for me to say,” said State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia of Aurora. “What I do understand is that, eight years ago, when I came to the General Assembly, one very intelligent man came to me and said, ‘Linda, it doesn't matter how much you give education — they will find a way to spend it and every year they will come back and say ‘We want more money.’’”
Within just six months, Chapa LaVia said she was able to save the two school districts in her district $3 million in insurance costs.
“These are non-personnel costs — how many more school districts do we have out there that are not spending their money wisely?” Chapa LaVia said. “When I talk to the budgeteers, they’re saying that for every dollar we spend on education, 80 percent goes to administration. Only 20 percent goes to the kids. There’s something backwards in the state of Illinois.”
State Rep. Karen May of Highwood said she did not want to cut retiree benefits, but about a quarter of the state “retirees” are younger than 60 years old and don’t qualify for Medicare, so they cost the state about $900 a month instead of $300 and many have retired from the state to go on and take a second job, often with another unit of government, so they could afford to contribute about 15 to 20 percent of their health costs, she said.
“As much as we love our retirees, this is a tough-love exercise,” May said. “We don’t love them any less but they need to feel pain.”