Former Illinois House speaker calls human services cuts 'disastrous'

DOUG FINKE

SPRINGFIELD -- Former Illinois House Speaker Lee Daniels Wednesday said Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposed cuts to human service programs are “disastrous.”

Daniels, who was the Republican speaker of the House from 1995 to 1997, said cuts to human service programs hurt the people state government is supposed to serve.

“It is the worst kind of cut a person can put into operation,” said Daniels, the parent of an adult developmentally disabled child. “Government must do for people who cannot care for themselves what they need to have done.”

The budget for next year that Quinn gave lawmakers contains deep cuts to a wide range of human service programs. Quinn said cuts to state spending are a necessity because, even with the recently enacted income tax increase, state finances are teetering.

Daniels didn’t say where the state should cut expenses, but said it might be prudent to adopt “zero-based budgeting” in which government agencies each year must justify the programs they administer.

However, Daniels resisted the temptation to indulge in “I told you so” statements.

“The challenges of today are probably harder than anything I faced when I was here with our budget deficit,” he said. “We dealt with the problems of our time, and we felt we did the right things.”

Daniels, who draws a pension for his three decades in office, said he believes it would be unconstitutional for the state to change pension benefits for current employees. A preferable alternative, he said, would be to put new employees in a defined contribution pension plan like the 401k investment programs used in the private sector.

Daniels was in Springfield Wednesday for the unveiling of his official portrait as former House speaker. Rather than sit for a painting, the image was taken from a photograph taken of Daniels when he was honored by his law school alma mater, the John Marshall Law School.

The portrait cost $2,253, said Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan.

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