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Local lawmakers pan Quinn speech

Proposed education cuts criticized

Another speech. More bad reviews.

On Wednesday, Gov. Pat Quinn delivered his budget speech to lawmakers. He got criticism from area lawmakers, as he did after his State of the State address a few weeks ago.

His budget includes cuts to education, among other things.

State Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, called the governor's speech "pretty scattered."

"The governor said eight different things were our priority. There was no prioritization," Demmer said. "Pensions have to be our top priority. We're not going to be able to do the budget without knowing pension costs."

The state says its pension debt is rising $17 million a day.

State Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, who represents Whiteside County, noted the governor's proposed $400 million cuts to education.

"He didn't cut anything else but education," the senator said. "I have to think he is doing that to put us in a position to get more revenue. We fought hard for the last 10 years to make education a strong suit in Illinois. Who wants education back to 2003 levels?"

The cuts to state spending should be spread out among government agencies, Jacobs said.

Rep. Mike Smiddy, D-Hillsdale, who represents Whiteside County, said he resented the governor's attempt to place all of the blame for the state's fiscal problems on the legislature.

"He is part of the problem," Smiddy said. "He wants to cut $400 million from education. He talks a good game, but his actions say something different."

Sen. Tim Bivins, R-Dixon, said that while the governor talks about cuts, nearly all of them are for education. Quinn also calls for spending increases elsewhere in the budget, the senator said.

"He talked about having to pay a backlog of bills because of decades of fiscal mismanagement. But the state passed a 67 percent income tax increase to pay down the bills. We haven't paid those bills," Bivins said.

Bivins and Demmer said they were concerned about costs associated with the federal Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. Starting next year, the federal government plans to pay entirely for expanded Medicaid rolls, which will come about as part of Obamacare.

But Bivins and Demmer contended the state will see costs from the beginning because it'll have to hire more employees to enroll hundreds of thousands of new Medicaid recipients.

The lawmakers had a few good things to say about the governor's speech. Bivins said he liked Quinn's proposal to eliminate or consolidate 75 boards and commissions, while Jacobs sympathized with the governor's situation.

"Clearly, the governor has been dealt a tough hand. He has to play it the best he can," Jacobs said. "The governor is doing the best he can to get Illinois back on fiscal track."

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