With the fiscal year wrapping up at midnight on June 30, observers watched carefully to see what Illinois Governor Pat Quinn would do with the budget sent to him by the state legislature.
The governor had originally proposed a budget of around $36 billion, but leaders in the State House hacked that budget down to around $33.2 billion before signing off on it and sending it to Quinn's desk. The State Senate had sought to reshuffle another $430 million before signing the bill, but in a showdown between Democratic Senate President John Cullerton and Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, the House version was ultimately passed. Madigan rarely loses such power struggles.
Constitutionally, Quinn had few options on what to do with the budget. But he surprised many political insiders by making even deeper cuts than the House had already made, trimming another $376 million from the already pared-down budget he received.
The budget he signed was down to $32.9 billion.
"Line by line, I have carefully examined the budget passed by the General Assembly and identified areas for improvement and reduction," Quinn said in a statement released around 8 p.m. Thursday. "I also re-prioritized government spending to protect our state’s core principles."
Specifically, his cuts came in three areas: Medicaid reimbursements; school transportation; and educational bureaucracy.
The majority of the cuts, around $276 million, came to Medicaid. This means that hospitals that serve the poor will receive lower reimbursement rates for their services from the state of Illinois than they're accustomed to. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Quinn did emphasize that inner-city "safety net" medical centers will not see any cuts in rates, and specifically added that Chicago's Stroger Hospital won't be affected.
Another $89 million came from the money school districts spend to bus students to and from school. “School transportation by its nature is local function for parents and local school districts,” Quinn's budget director David Vaught said to the Sun-Times. “They can get their kids to school.”
But the Chicago Tribune reports that some Republican lawmakers quickly took issue with that cut.
The move became an immediate flashpoint. Republican Rep. Roger Eddy, a school superintendent from downstate Hutsonville, said the cuts will hurt the Chicago suburbs and rural districts where some children need to travel many miles to get to schools.
Eddy contended Quinn’s actions made him appear to have a “vendetta against transporting kids.”
“If you don’t get kids to school and transporting kids is obviously vital to get them there, you can’t teach them,” said Eddy, the Republican spokesman for the House committee dealing with elementary and high school spending.
The final cuts were $11 million from salaries at regional school superintendent offices. These offices have long been criticized as an unnecessary level of bureaucracy in the education system, and the arrest of suburban Cook County superintendent Charles Flowers on corruption charges last year only helped to prove that point, as the Chicago News Cooperative reminds readers.
Quinn's new cuts are actually line-item vetoes to the budget. This could present a problem, especially for the Medicaid cuts, as it will only require a simple majority of legislators to override the vetoes. The governor was unable earlier this year to convince a majority in either house to roll back reimbursement rates.
That means his "cut" to Medicaid might just delay the payments until legislators re-convene in the fall, when they may well reinstate the spending.
Correction appended: An earlier version of this story said that the Senate sought to "add" $430 million to the budget. President Cullerton's office wrote to clarify: "The $430 million was reprioritized spending, not additional spending," Cullerton's deputy press secretary John Patterson wrote. "It's been widely reported that these were additions, but the total budget figure, $33.2 billion set by the House, would not have increased."