Local lawmakers were largely unimpressed Wednesday by Gov. Pat Quinn's proposed five-year budget that includes making the temporary income tax hike permanent, increasing education funding and providing tax relief to homeowners.Reaction followed party lines, as Democrats said the speech was a straightforward, honest look at Illinois' finances while Republicans said the address left them wanting."I don't mean to sound disparaging, but where's the beef? It's hard to believe we [...]
Local lawmakers were largely unimpressed Wednesday by Gov. Pat Quinn's proposed five-year budget that includes making the temporary income tax hike permanent, increasing education funding and providing tax relief to homeowners.
Reaction followed party lines, as Democrats said the speech was a straightforward, honest look at Illinois' finances while Republicans said the address left them wanting.
"I don't mean to sound disparaging, but where's the beef? It's hard to believe we gave him an extra month to prepare for that," said Sen. Sam McCann, R-Carlinville.
Quinn said at the beginning of his speech, which was originally scheduled for February, that he would be honest and specific, but McCann said he's still waiting on the specifics.
Rep. Raymond Poe, R-Springfield, is waiting, too, and said the governor should elaborate.
"It sounds like a great agenda, but I never did hear how he was going to pay for it," Poe said.
The governor mentioned several proposals, including doubling the Monetary Award Program grant funding for college students, increasing education spending by $6 billion over five years and giving every Illinois homeowner a permanent $500 property tax refund.
"I'm sure everybody would like to have property tax relief, but you can't do it with the current budget we have," Poe said.
Surprised at how short the address was, he added, "I kept thinking we're building up, we're going to hear how he's going to pay for it. There was a lot of dreaming going on and no answers."
"This is the governor's budget address. We have a roughly $35 billion budget as far as general revenue goes. And the only specific we got was a $500 rebate to homeowners?" McCann said. "I would like to say that this is populist Pat Quinn at his best, but populist Pat Quinn could do better than what we got today."
Rep. Rich Brauer, R-Petersburg, said the speech was "very political" and that he didn't learn anything new.
"We expected the governor to say he wanted to keep the temporary income tax permanent, we expected him to say he wanted to increase spending, he's trying to do all those things. I think that's certainly the wrong way for state government to go," Brauer said.
"I think that we're still under financial pressures even with the income tax in place, and how he's going to increase that extra spending is beyond me without new taxes."
Similar to his state of the state address in January, Quinn spoke at length about his successes in the five years since he took office, including reforming state employee pension systems, making pension payments on time and getting the state's finances on track to pay down a significant backlog of unpaid bills. But that message didn't stick.
"Are we that much better off?" Poe asked. "Something about his numbers doesn't add up."
Not everybody complained about the address. Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville, said he thought the speech was "pretty straightforward."
"I think (Quinn) laid forth when the temporary income tax sunsets, what the effects of that will be," Sullivan said. "We're faced with a decision: Do we vote to make the temporary tax permanent or do we vote for a budget that is going to have drastic cuts?"
However, Sullivan was concerned about how school districts would respond to massive cuts if the temporary income tax increase expires as scheduled.
"I've already heard from my school districts. They are already (cutting) school teachers," he said.
Sullivan also had a problem with Quinn's pledge for new spending in early childhood education and MAP grants.
"Obviously, we'd love to put more money into early childhood, we'd love to put more money into MAP. Those are great, popular proposals. But I think given the situation right now, we ought to try to hold the line on spending and not look to giving out new programs," he said.
Decatur Democratic Rep. Sue Scherer issued a statement taking a similar position, saying she has "been proud to support spending caps and work through the budget line by line."
"It's time to sell the politicians' planes, sell the inefficient state cars and root out fraud and waste in the Medicaid system so those who are truly in need of care can receive it," Scherer's statement said.
Bunker Hill Democratic Sen. Andy Manar also thought the address was straightforward, saying there were "no gimmicks in the speech."
"I think (Quinn) gave a very forthright look at where we've come in recent years. We have made progress. And I think he gave a forthright view into the future," Manar said.
But when asked how he thought Quinn would pay for proposed increases in education spending, Manar said, "Well, we're going to have to sort through that."
He said the important thing to consider when it comes to budgets is not only how much money there is, but where it goes.
"It's a two-pronged approach. We have to discuss amounts that we spend in the budget, and we should also discuss how we spend it," he said. "Which, by the way, doesn't require increased revenue."
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