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Quinn Talks About Iraq Trip, Says Budget Needs To Stretch $1B Into $5B

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CHICAGO (AP) -- Gov. Pat Quinn visited with Illinois troops, took part in medal ceremonies and flew in a helicopter over the mountains of Afghanistan as part of a six-day trip abroad that also included a stay in Iraq.

"Many of our service members are in very remote places, they have very little from home, very few if any visitors. To have the governor ... show up and personally thank each person for their service, their fortitude, their sacrifice really meant a lot," Quinn told reporters Thursday at a news conference after returning home the night before.

At one base, Quinn saw pictures of three Illinois soldiers who were killed that he had attended funerals for back home. He passed out state flags to other soldiers so they could continue the tradition of showing off their state pride while serving abroad. He went to a barbecue with Illinois troops.

Quinn traveled with the governors of Texas, Minnesota, Missouri and Nevada on a trip he said was paid for by the Defense Department. The trip also included stops in Kuwait and Germany. Information about trip costs was not immediately available.

Visiting Afghanistan was almost like going to a "medieval" place because of the donkeys and carts on the roads.

"It looks like going well back in time, then there's billboards for cell phones," said Quinn, who visited Illinois troops in some of the country's remote provinces.

In Afghanistan, Quinn met with an Illinois National Guard infantry unit, and in Iraq he met with a helicopter unit and another group that handles paperwork for injured and killed soldiers, said Guard spokesman Maj. Brad Leighton.

The unit in Afghanistan, the 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, is the largest deployment of Illinois National Guard troops since World War II with about 3,000 soldiers deployed, Leighton said.

Leighton said soldiers appreciate visits from officials back home.

"It's a morale booster," he said.

Quinn, who visited Iraq when he was lieutenant governor, has a reputation for being an advocate for military members, their families and veterans. Quinn became governor in January after Gov. Rod Blagojevich was impeached and removed from office.

While in Iraq and Afghanistan, Quinn said he met with U.S. military officials and other leaders.

On Thursday, Quinn hadn't been home very long before he had to deal with budget realities.

Quinn said his administration would keep working in the coming weeks to prioritize programs and services as the state grapples with budget cuts.

The governor already has promised $1 billion in cuts, including layoffs, and lawmakers have given him the authority to ax $1 billion more. He can also shift around money in the budget as he sees fit. It's all part of a patchwork budget that lawmakers passed earlier this month to avoid even deeper cuts and an income tax increase.

He said he has "a billion or so dollars" to fill $5 billion worth of holes in the budget.

What gets money will be things deemed to be "core functions," he said. Quinn didn't elaborate but said it would not mean "radical cuts" for programs that assist veterans, military families and soldiers.

Quinn said he will push lawmakers to reconsider an income tax increase to generate more state revenue.


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