Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget proposal offers cuts and construction

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Illinois is expecting to operate much leaner in the coming year. That’s the message from Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget address Wednesday in Springfield.

He issued a call to restructure and reform Medicaid by slicing $2.7 billion in the coming year.

At Trinity Regional Health System, Illinois Medicaid payments are running about 200 days late. The state now owes the hospital about $16 million.

Trinity’s President Rick Seidler says the state needs to reduce spending in every area. But it’s too early to tell what impact it could have on services and jobs.

“The 18% cut in Medicaid spending is very aggressive,” he said. “I know the state’s in a difficult financial situation, but it’s going to be devastating for providers and ultimately for patients, I think.”

Gov. Quinn came to the capitol to deliver “the hard truth.” It’s a budget peppered with cuts, belt-tightening and a continuing challenge to do more with less.

“We must navigate our budget out of past decades of poor fiscal management, deferring bills to the future and empty promises,” he said.

Gov. Quinn wants to consolidate two dozen Department of Human Services local offices across Illinois. The Rock Island location knows all about the crisis.

“Rural America is under attack,” said Carlene Erno, president of AFSCME Local 2615. “They don’t have jobs. Now they don’t have access to services. It’s just not fair.”

Open positions go unfilled while workloads doubled in recent years. Closures in Mercer and Henry Counties hurt those who need help the most.

“It’s the people that feel they don’t have a voice,” said Tammy Rotz, a DHS caseworker and union vice president. “They don’t think their opinion matters.”

Despite the bad news, Gov. Quinn wants to find some way to pump up the Illinois economy. That means turning to shovel-ready projects that might dig into the deficit.

Gov. Quinn wants to spend a billion dollars on construction for education. That includes the second phase of Western Illinois University’s Riverfront Campus in Moline. The university plans to break ground this fall.

“As we get into economic recovery and growth, the key is preparing the jobs,” said Dr. Joe Rives, WIU vice president. “Those jobs require education.”

That means believing in the power of education to create opportunities for everyone in Illinois.

“That’s why I’ve maintained our basic investment in education despite extremely hard times,” Gov. Quinn said. “No state is going to out-educate Illinois.”

From the computer lab to the capitol, it’s all about confronting hard truths for Illinois. But it’s anybody’s guess where the legislature will go with these recommendations.