Budget ax cuts deep; House may act to restore some money

Ryan Keith

Rep. Gary Hannig is learning just how deep Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s state budget cuts are, one ring at a time.

“Today, my phone is ringing a lot from people who said the governor misjudged what it will mean to them,” Hannig said Monday.

Hannig, D-Litchfield, and other House lawmakers return to the state Capitol Tuesday for a three-day session in which they’ll decide what to do about the $1.4 billion in budget cuts Blagojevich dropped on their desks last week.

That job isn’t as easy as simply trying to restore all or most of what the governor slashed for foster care, drug dependency and many other programs. Lawmakers have to get on the same page on what they’ll vote to reinstate and how they’ll pay for it, which could take a while.

Senate President Emil Jones and Blagojevich blame the House for approving a budget that the governor says was more than $2 billion out of whack, forcing him to make the painful cuts. The Senate passed several ideas to bring in more money this fiscal year, which began July 1, but all have stalled in the House.

Jones, D-Chicago, made clear last week he has no intention of bringing the Senate back to Springfield unless the House, led by Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, changes its mind about finding more revenue to cover the extra costs.

That has some local House members questioning this week’s efforts.

“Why vote to restore?  The Senate is not going to take it up. You’re just misleading those folks again that they are going to get some money,” said Rep. Raymond Poe, R-Springfield.

But this week could provide some political cover for the House in the face of growing pressure from advocacy groups.

Blagojevich said in an interview with The State Journal-Register last week that most of the cuts actually came from increases over last year’s spending levels, making them somewhat easier to swallow, since that money hadn’t been spent before.

If nothing is done soon, lawmakers may not have another chance to revisit the cuts until their fall veto session in November. Some advocates say the damage to their services will be done by then.

Hannig said Democrats and Republicans could come together this week to restore cuts for higher education, ethanol programs and $150 million in school construction grants. Some vetoes need a supermajority vote to be overridden, requiring some Republican support in the Democrat-controlled House.

“Those are across party lines,” Hannig said. “Members of both parties would like them to be restored.”

Lawmakers could find extra money if they can agree to “sweep” money out of some state funds set aside for special purposes. The Senate approved $530 million in fund sweeps in May, but Madigan indicated last week the House might consider $300 million in sweeps with more limits on what and how much the governor could take.

Even that approach has skeptics.

“I won’t vote to restore money based on fund sweeps,” said Rep. Rich Brauer, R-Petersburg.

Some lawmakers also said Monday they could support reinstating funding for social service programs, such as $55 million cut from substance abuse treatment and prevention centers throughout the state.

“Community-level programs are far more important than another bureaucrat someplace,” said Rep. David Leitch, R-Peoria.

Adriana Colindres and Doug Finke contributed to this report. Ryan Keith can be reached at (217) 788-1518 or