Illinois governor Pat Quinn laid out his budget plan for the coming year, a $52.7 billion package that relies heavily on borrowing to pay off the state's backlog of unpaid bills.
Republicans in the state legislature were calling the bill "dead on arrival," saying the borrowing was encouraging the governor's habits of excessive spending.
"He wants to borrow $8.7 billion. It's going to cost us $4 billion to pay it back — it's the proverbial kicking the can down the road," said House Minority Leader Tom Cross, in a recording captured by Capitol Fax. "He's got to focus on trimming spending."
But Quinn described the plan as "debt restructuring," making the reasonable point that the current plan -- delaying payments to human service agencies, school districts and others by six months or more -- simply amounts to borrowing on the backs of working Illinoisans.
The state would repay its debts using the money earned from its recent income tax increase, from three to five percent.
Republicans, however, are uniquely able to follow through of their threats to kill the borrowing plan. It takes three-fifths of each house to approve borrowing, and while the Democrats had that wide a majority in both houses last session, Republicans now control more than 40 percent of the Senate, allowing them to block a borrowing package if they hold the line.
The budget also includes roughly $1 billion in cuts, but much of the savings are being diverted to fund other programs, the Chicago Tribune reports. For instance, $95 million in cuts to schools for bussing students will be redirected to support expanded early-childhood education and scholarships for low-income college students.
In all, the plan spends roughly $1.7 billion more than the previous year.
Again, Republicans critiqued the governor for ramping up spending. Quinn's chief of staff, Jack Lavin, countered by arguing that the budget was simply more honest than in previous years. From the Tribune:
Lavin explained that spending is higher than last year because new budgeting rules require the governor to include funding for things like pension payments and employee health costs, which have gone unpaid in years past.
"We had a broken system that for the last 20 years kicked the can down the road, maybe didnt count something in the budget," Lavin said. "You have to true-up the budget and put everything in."
Quinn also made a passing mention of reforming the state's workers' compensation plan, which has been mired in scandal of late.
One point that earned the governor audible boos from the assembled legislators was his plan to abolish legislative scholarships, a program that allows legislators to get two students in their districts a scholarship to any state university. The program is beloved among elected officials, but has also been haunted by the specter of corruption.
The budget now goes before the legislature for approval.