Budget scalpel could cut deeply

Doug Finke

From the disabled who need help to stay in their homes to school districts trying to balance their own budgets, people who rely on state spending are bracing for Gov. Pat Quinn's budget scalpel.

Quinn said Monday he's preparing to deal with the proposed spending plan approved by lawmakers last month and that cuts are coming, although he did not specify where they will land.

The only area Quinn identified was "bureaucracy," implying reductions in direct government expenses, such as employee costs. However, Quinn is limited on that front because of an agreement the administration reached earlier this year with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the largest of state government’s employee unions.

The union gave up half its scheduled pay raise next year in exchange for a guarantee of no additional layoffs and no further closure of state facilities through June 2011. The Quinn administration said that and other cost-saving moves will save about $200 million.

That doesn’t mean AFSCME isn’t worried about Quinn’s impending cuts.

"We are very concerned that the governor may further reduce funding for community-based human services, local governments or higher education -- areas in which tens of thousands of AFSCME members work to serve their communities all over Illinois," AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall said in a written statement Tuesday.

Home care in jeopardy

That's also a concern of the Service Employees International Union, which represents people who help the elderly and disabled state in their homes.

"What we're hearing is the administration is seriously considering cutting the home care program, cutting hours and cutting people off the program," said SEIU communications director Brynn Siebert. "It costs three times as much to keep a person in an institution as at home."

Tyler McHaley, president of Springfield Area Disability Activists, said he believes cuts to home care are coming.

"We have no reason to believe (Quinn) won't do that," McHaley said as he prepared to lead a group of about two dozen protesters on a march Tuesday from the Capitol to the Executive Mansion. "There may be a chance I won't be able to maintain my home. All the things everyone takes for granted will be cut for us."

Home care workers help with any number of chores, from cooking and cleaning to laundry and personal hygiene.

"I could lose several hours (of assistance) a day, which would really limit my ability to be independent," said Michael Mohr of Sterling, another of the protesters. "I think it's really inappropriate that he's cutting budgets for people who had no control over how the money was spent in the past. They're taking funding away from people who need it most."

‘Roughest year ever’

Don Moss, a lobbyist who works on behalf of mental health and developmental disabilities organizations, said he's hearing from providers that their contracts with the state to provide services are being cut.

Just as bad, Moss said, is that the state is already way behind on paying money promised in current contracts.

"We will see the roughest year ever," Moss predicted. "Lobbying for people with disabilities, I've never seen it this bad. Everything is a big question mark right now."

Although Quinn promised to protect school funding as much as possible, education interests also are bracing for the worst.

"We've got people who are being laid off who will not be called back," said Charles McBarron of the Illinois Education Association. "It's an extremely stressful time for our members. They have families and children going to college and mortgages. To be put in a situation unfairly and unnecessarily is extremely unsettling."

Budget built on quicksand

Dave Comerford of the Illinois Federation of Teachers said any cuts announced by Quinn may not mean much in the end anyway.

"We think this is a budget built on quicksand. Regardless of what numbers they put in the budget book, the funding doesn't exist to fund education at that level," Comerford said.

Ben Schwarm of the Illinois Association of School Boards said the association still hasn't been able to figure out what the proposed budget means for schools, and he doesn't expect that to change after Quinn acts.

"Every area of the budget, there's still question marks," Schwarm said. "Even if they appropriate money, if they don't send payments it doesn't do much good.”

Doug Finke can be reached at 217-788-1527.

Budget release now scheduled for Thursday

Gov. Pat Quinn’s office said Tuesday that the governor will reveal his proposed budget plan on Thursday, the first day of the state’s 2011 fiscal year.

Quinn had said earlier that he expected to disclose the budget plan today. The announcement from his office, however, said Quinn has other obligations today.