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Pat Quinn's Latest Budget Plan Aims for 'Heaven,' Teens, State Courts Heading in Opposite Direction

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From the Department of New Budget Plans by the Minute, Governor Pat Quinn has dumped his plan for an income tax increase (from 3% to 4.5%)-at least until fall-and now wants a temporary five month budget, a plan he recently opposed.

Additionally, Quinn wants to float $3.5 billion in five-year pension obligation bonds instead of the originally proposed $2.2 billion plan, according to a tweet from State Rep. John Fritchey during a July 10 meeting with Quinn in Springfield.

Quinn's objective with his newest FY 2010 budget scheme is to fund Illinois human service providers at 90% of FY 2009 levels instead of at the 50% level approved by the Illinois General Assembly in SB 1197, A.K.A. the Illinois Doomsday Budget, and vetoed by Quinn.

Even with the extra dough in hand, Quinn still intends to cut the state operations budget by $1 billion, which boots 2,600 state employees out of jobs-1,000 alone from the Illinois Department of Corrections. That move could lead to the public policy-smart but politically risky early release of 6,000 non-violent drug offenders.

Quinn's new plan, however, failed to inspire even a whiff of confidence in Fritchey. "This meeting with the Gov. and his staff is not giving me a good feeling about session next week," the Chicago lawmaker dolefully tweeted.

Quinn recently and obliquely noted his shifting support from various budget plans. "There are many ways to get to heaven," Quinn said a few days ago after another change in plan.

However, while Quinn is contemplating heaven, hundreds of Illinois human service providers on the brink of financial apocalypse are fretting over landing in much, much, warmer climes.

A new survey of Illinois youth service agencies funded--or defunded--by the Illinois Department of Human Services reveals that local providers have already absorbed more than $50 million in direct program cuts, laying off 1,075 employees and slashing care to more than 17,000 low-income children and teens struggling with mental illness, homelessness or both.

"Governor Pat Quinn's contract cuts--even with no state budget--have already hit all parts of the state from Chicago to Putnam County, slashing care to more than 17,000 children and eliminating 1,075 jobs," said Marge Berglind, President of the Child Care Association of Illinois.

No Heaven here.

In addition to the Hades-bound homeless teens and other children, the state budget crisis has thrown the state's criminal court system into turmoil.

TASC (Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities), a not-for-profit mandated by the state law and directed by state criminal courts to evaluate substance abuse addicts and arrange drug treatment rather than jail, has lost 76% of its $8 million in state human services funding.

Currently, there were 165 people waiting in county jails across Illinois for a TASC assessment because TASC has suspended intake of new court-ordered offenders. Fifty of those are in Cook County ($125/day) and 115 are in other jails across Illinois (average $70/day). County taxpayers are now paying an extra $12,550 for every day these 126 people wait in jail and the state fiddles. That's $14,300 a day more.

By cutting $6 million from TASC's treatment placement and monitoring services, the additional state prison costs will top an additional $154 million this year. That $6 million "saved" today will cost the Quinn $154 million tomorrow. That's Illinois budgeting at its best.

Perhaps Quinn and the legislative leaders--House Speaker Michael Madigan, House Minority Leader Tom Cross, Senate President John Cullerton, and Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno--will this week cobble, paste, and wire together a ramshackle budget deal that will reverse the collateral damage and allow Illinois to sputter and wheeze forward, which would represent progress.

Heaven can wait.