Cleaning up state finances will take years, Quinn says
SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Pat Quinn says it will take a growing economy, a tax increase, more spending cuts and four years to erase billions in red ink from the state budget.
While Quinn said he continues to look for savings, he portrayed the state government he has run for the past 20 months as a place where deep cuts — $3 billion, he claims — have already been made. Quinn, a Democrat, blamed the recession and former Republican President George W. Bush’s economic policies for the state’s fiscal plight.
“I don’t want to have a blunderbuss approach,” Quinn said in a meeting with The State Journal-Register editorial board on Thursday. “I don’t want to see tens of thousands or even thousands of state workers laid off. … I don’t want to cut teachers.”
Quinn criticized his Republican gubernatorial opponent, state Sen. Bill Brady, for comments Brady made to the editorial board on Tuesday. Brady said he hopes across-the-board cuts in state government can be made without laying off state workers by simply not replacing those who leave. The state’s financial crisis is too deep for that, Quinn said.
“If he says these economies are going to be realized by attrition, I’ve already laid off people. I’ve laid off 1,102,” Quinn said. “There is a limit to this. We cannot just throw out all the state employees … they do good work, and I honor their work.”
No ice cream?
Quinn also defended his plan to increase the state income tax from 3 percent to 4 percent. He said he is leveling with voters before the election, unlike Brady and past Republican governors who were elected on a no-tax pledge only to raise taxes after the election.
“You don’t just get to eat ice cream sandwiches all the time,” Quinn said.
Quinn has asked for an income tax increase in each of the two budgets he has proposed. But the Illinois House has refused to pass one, with House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, saying he opposes a tax hike and that one will not pass without GOP votes. Many of Madigan’s House candidates are campaigning against higher taxes.
Asked why that would change next year, Quinn said if he is elected, the “electoral mandate … will make it pretty clear that my ideas are the ones that prevail.”
Quinn listed five things he is doing or wants to do to get the budget in the black:
-- Create jobs;
-- Squeeze more savings out of the budget by doing things like implementing managed care for Medicaid and consolidating office space;
-- Get financial help from the federal government;
-- Increase the income tax; and
-- Use strategic borrowing to pay the bills and avoid harming public services.
But asked to provide a road map with specific numbers for each plank of his plan to erase the state budget deficit, Quinn, like Brady, did not.
“It’s an exercise that will take four years. … It’s not a one-year exercise,” the governor said. “He’s really doing a disservice to the people of Illinois by acting like this is a simple exercise of (cutting) a dime on a dollar that we’ve already done.”
Quinn brushed aside suggestions that there has been gridlock and little progress in the eight years Democrats have held the governor’s office and both legislative chambers.
He touted his signing of a $29 billion capital construction bill in 2009, campaign-contribution limits and other ethics measures passed in 2010, and a two-tiered pension system approved in 2010. He also noted recent announcements by Navistar, Boeing, Ford and Groupon that they are adding jobs in Illinois, and in some cases, moving them from other states.
“Our state has created more manufacturing jobs than any other Midwestern state,” Quinn said.
The governor also defended bringing state budget director David Vaught to an interview with members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Brady has lambasted the governor repeatedly for bringing Vaught, who is not on Quinn’s campaign staff, to the political meeting, saying that it was improper given that Vaught was involved in negotiations with AFSCME over concessions in the union’s contract.
Quinn said the session was called a “town meeting” with AFSCME, not an endorsement meeting, and that he brought Vaught in case he had budget questions, not for Vaught to answer questions from the union. The union later used information from the meetings with the gubernatorial candidates to make its endorsement.
“I go to a lot of town meetings. I believe in that process. AFSCME was hardly a big fan of some of the things I did,” Quinn said, noting that the union opposed creating a new set of pension benefits for state employees hired after January. “I brought somebody, after work, in case I had questions about finances.”
Quinn said he is the only governor ever to get concessions from AFSCME, the first of which were agreed to last year. Last month, he cut two new deals with the union — one to save $70 million on health-care costs and another to save $50 million to $100 million via increased efficiencies, furlough days and other concessions that have not yet been named. The deal calls for no layoffs through the end of AFSCME’s contract on July 30, 2012.
Brady has criticized the agreement for tying his hands if he is elected.
Quinn noted that earlier in his term, he tried to lay off state workers, but a judge stopped him. A mediator was appointed who helped the state and the union reach a compromise, Quinn said.
“There’s an ancient curse: May your life be filled with lawyers,” said Quinn, himself an attorney by trade. “Do I want a litigious situation that may not realize one penny of any kind of concessions? Or do you follow a course where you can get more agreement to save money?
“We haven’t given up. We want the union to do more on unpaid days off. We need savings now.”
Chris Wetterich can be reached at 788-1523.
Quinn on other issues
Abortion: Quinn is pro-choice. “I think it’s a fundamental right of privacy.”
Guns/concealed carry: Opposes and would veto a bill that allows people to carry concealed guns if it reaches his desk. “I believe in common-sense restrictions on weapons.”
Civil unions for same-sex couples: Favors
Public employee pensions: Believes changing future benefits for current employees is unconstitutional. “You have to abide by the constitution. There are some great newspapers, probably the Tribune, who think you can just go in there and violate the constitution with impunity. The words are plain.”
Will he live in Springfield? “I plan to spend a healthy number of days right here.”