A week ago, the Illinois Senate Republican leadership team held a press conference to announce the state was in debt and that they would announce a second press conference to come. The purpose of the second event was to show the people of Illinois the six billion dollars in cuts they proposed to make to the Illinois state budget.
If creating a sense of trustworthiness and immediacy were the goals of the first press conference, the group wasn't off to a good start. Their materials, charts, and speeches talked about the urgency in which the state must react, yet they weren't able to announce any cuts, nor were they willing to introduce future cuts in which they couldn't get at least fifteen senators to support. They further eroded confidence by announcing that the state would need four to six billion dollars in cuts. Despite the senator's combined years of experience of budgeting in Springfield, they still presented a two billion dollar margin of error in their budget proposal. (If you want people to believe what you are saying, you might want to cut that margin down a little.)
How we got to a point where people were waiting patiently for a laundry list of Republican cuts is beyond me. Illinois Republicans had it so good with their "We need to live within our means" mantra. See, most people share the belief that lower taxes would be nice, and that the state should spend within its means. Those same people also don't want to see cuts to governmental services including cuts to education, safety, health care, to foster children, or the mentally ill. By not outlining your cuts, you get the benefit of sitting on the outside--away from the realities of what cuts mean--while projecting a sense of correctness that whatever cuts are made just aren't deep enough.
Flash forward to today where we have a different playing field, one in which the Illinois Republican party must now play defense with most of their cards laying out on the table for all to see. I must first say kudos to the leadership of the Illinois Republican Senate for presenting their proposed budget cuts today; I had incorrectly assumed that calmer heads would prevail, and that this document would have never seen the light of day.
Now the reality check: Do Illinois Senate Republicans understand they just wrote their opponents' 2012 campaign flyers? Cuts to foster kids, elderly, Medicaid, education (the list goes on)--these cuts simply aren't popular positions in which to launch a re-election campaign no matter what region of the state you represent.
Some of the soon-to-be campaign ad items include:
• Cutting millions from low income housing and housing for the state's mentally ill and disabled
• Proposals of $1.35 billion in pension cuts, some of which include taking away already earned pensions from retirees
• Multiple cuts proposed for RTA/CTA--Chicago residents, get ready for a fare increase!
• Proposed elimination of the Illinois Arts Council
• Cutting tuition waivers for special education teachers, elderly students, and even the very children of war veterans past and currently serving in battle
• A proposed $750 million cut from education in a time when Illinois schools are failing
• Removing $140 million from foster kids and the families taking care of them
• A proposal to move public employees to HMO's where care is often restricted to return higher profits
• Placing a halt on job creation in Illinois with a $20 million cut in grants and job training
• A proposal which may force families to give up their savings, home, and other assets to keep their kids on state health care
• And finally, a proposed $1.3 billion cut in Medicaid, including kicking off children from state health care. This in turn would then cost the state $650 million dollars in federal revenue for that same health care.
The plan has some serious math and logic issues as well.
Take the attack on foster child funding. The Senate GOP takes particular note of the fact that individuals who take in wards of the state and are related to the foster child are being paid foster care rates. They count the savings of not paying these family members towards their $6 billion total. What isn't accounted for is the fact that without this disbursement, many of these family members could not afford to care for these children. The end result is that these children end up being put back into the state's foster care system, thus costing the state even more funds from the uptick in oversight and placement costs.
Despite cutting job development grants, the plan claims all the proposed cuts will generate $1.23 billion in revenue due to job gains, yet fails to compute the public sector job loss and the resulting affects of additional people needing state assistance.
Several cuts propose returning to previous expenditure levels, as though delivering services and costs of doing business have not increased over the past eight years.
They are also taking credit for millions saved from paying vendors on time and securing a stronger bond rating, which is rich in irony since they won't support debt restructuring which could accomplish both immediately rather than in four years.
Even more questionable is the assumption that by FY 16, the economy will bounce back only if these cuts are made, resulting in $2.23 billion in new revenue.
I suspect that over the next couple of weeks, some of these cuts will be slowly talked back, "clarified," or eliminated altogether. Irregardless, it will be hard to talk about how you would have made different cuts when your proposed cuts have already been published in a detailed manner.
The Illinois Senate Republicans have shown their budget hand, cuts, bruises, and all. Illinois Democrats, be sure to send your thank you cards to Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno. She just made your re-election process a whole lot easier.
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