Governor Quinn Makes Good Start, Faces Perilous Budget

Governor Pat Quinn marked his 30th full day in office day in office on March 1st.

And he has been busy since day one repairing a tattered state government.

Quinn has quickly attempted to repair executive branch relationships with the legislature and the public

Governor Pat Quinn

Governor Pat Quinn

battered by his disgraced predecessor Rod Blagojevich. Quinn has met with state lawmakers—both Democrats and Republicans, held an open house at the governor’s mansion, and, unlike Blagojevich, actually moved into the residence.

Personally, I have had more conversation with the new Governor in the last 30 days than I had in the previous six years with Blagojevich. Virtually every lawmaker is breathing a deep sigh of relief.

In addition to his legislative outreach, Quinn is busy cleaning house and preparing to address the critical budget issues facing Illinois.

To begin, Quinn replaced former Blagojevich officials. He fired newly-appointed Department of Natural Resources Director, Kurt Granberg; Blagojevich spokesman Lucio Guerrero, and Deputy Governor Louanner Peters; and ousted Clayton Harris as chief of staff.

However, the biggest issue facing Quinn is Illinois’ massive budget deficit. And the Governor has been a whirl of behind-the-scenes activity preparing a budget and budget message to present to a joint session of the legislature on March 18th.

The message won’t be pretty.

Based on current revenue and expenditure estimates, the current state budget faces
a deficit of approximately $8.95 billion to 11.5 billion. Billion. The federal stimulus money may push that number down to $6 to 8.5 billion, but that still a staggering figure.

This is a grim situation for the new Governor to face.

To his credit, upon taking office, Quinn ordered all state agencies under his control to cut 1% from their current budgets—effective immediately. This cut will shave $250 million off the deficit this year. However, more needs to be done.

The budget that Quinn will present on March 18th will likely contain a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. No politician likes to raise taxes. None. But Illinois—like the rest of the country—faces a fiscal disaster. The state cannot simply cut its way out of the deficit.

The bulk of state spending is on education, healthcare, and public safety. To cut our way out the deficit, the state would need to close prisons and turn thousand criminals back to communities, eliminate health care to at least 10,000 children, and slash state aid to schools which could bankrupt local school districts, forcing them to fire thousands of teachers.

Lawmakers are not going to slash and burn our state. We are going to work with Governor Quinn to prudently manage the state’s finances and find the money to pay for services—education, healthcare, and public safety—that our constituents demand.

Quinn is aggressively establishing relationships with the legislature that his predecessor spurned.  Lawmakers appreciate those efforts and are ready to work with him. Those relationships will be crucial—and tested—when Quinn makes some painful but necessary decisions to confront the state budget peril.

Illinois House Panel Approves Lang Bill to Boost Foster Parent Reimbursement by One-Time $24 Million Grant

(Springfield, IL) – An Illinois House legislative panel on Thursday endorsed a one-time $24 million grant to reimburse foster parents for increased expenses related to caring for the state’s abused and neglected children.

The Illinois House Human Services Appropriation Committee voted 19-0 to include the money in the state’snew Fiscal Year 2010 budget.

Marge Berglind, President, Child Care Association of Illinois

Marge Berglind, President, Child Care Association of Illinois

“Foster parents have had only two increases in eight years to pay expenses to feed, clothe, house, and transport foster children and inflation has deeply eroded the value of the state reimbursement,” said Marge Berglind, the President and CEO of the Child Care Association of Illinois, the bill’s chief supporter.

Berglind noted, on average, an Illinois foster parent spends $703 per month—of that $281 comes out of the foster parent’s pocket.

A national report on foster parent under-funding released two yearsa go by two national organizations and the University of Maryland said Illinois’ average rates (for children 2, 9, and 16) were $380, $422, and $458 per month and they needed to be raised to $661, $757, and $830 to meet actual costs.

The legislation, House Bill 83, sponsored by State Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), provides a one-time payment this year of $24 million to the state’s 7,500 foster parents. The payments would average $145 per foster child.

“It’s an embarrassment that DCFS seeks volunteer foster parents to care for abused and neglected children and then refuses to pay the full cost of care,” said Lang. “This one-time $24 million grant attempts to address DCFS’ negligence.”

“We applaud Rep. Lang for his leadership and willingness to address the state’s under-funding of foster children care,” said Berglind.

State Representatives Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago), Deb Mell (D-Chicago) and Eddie Washington (D-Waukegan) are the bill’s co-chief sponsors.

The measure now moves to the full House floor.

House Ok’s Bill to Fire State Education Board, Curtail Gov’s Power to Appoint Board; Superintendent Could be Booted

(Springfield, IL) – The Illinois House yesterday approved legislation, 91-24, that would end the terms of the current nine-member Illinois State Board of Education, strip the governor’s power to directly appoint board members, and curb the governor’s power to propose a state superintendent to the board.

State Rep. Lou Lang

State Rep. Lou Langboard.

Sponsored by State Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), the bill creates a new and permanent seven-member nomination panel that would identify, evaluate, and submit a list of qualified education board candidates to the Governor for his or her consideration.

““This bill would reform the State Board (of Education) by taking it farther away from the political system,” said Lang.

Lang’s proposal empowers a new state board of education to fire the current superintendent if it chooses.

The House approval of Lang’s proposal is a dramatic reversal for the legislature.

In 2004, lawmakers gave the Governor’s authority to bring the state board more directly under the office’s control, granting former Governor Rod Blagojevich the power to immediately appoint seven board members.

Lang said he has no opposition to the current board.

“I just want to get to a point where this board is no longer beholden to the governor in any way, shape or form,” he said.

State Board of Education board is neutral on Lang’s bill.

Last year, the House approved a nearly identical measure 86-21.