'Staggering': Clayborne, Haine say budget cuts would hurt college students, kids

News-DemocratMarch 21, 2014 

— Two state senators from the metro-east say there would be harmful reductions in state government services if proposed budget cuts take effect next year.

Directors of state agencies outlined the impact of the looming cuts during an Illinois Senate committee hearing Friday.

Sen. James Clayborne, D-Belleville, said: ""This is simply staggering. If these cuts happen, 30,000 college students will lose their MAP grants and 39,000 low-income children won't receive vital services. That is not acceptable."

Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton, said: "Closing prisons and releasing inmates isn't my idea of a safe Illinois. These budget cuts would be devastating. I don't think this is what people want from state government."

Illinois education officials said districts could be forced to lay off thousands of teachers and borrow money to stay afloat if the proposed budget cuts are enacted.

Democrats estimate Illinois will have a $3 billion budget gap next year -- about $1.6 billion of which is because the temporary income tax increase Democrats approved in 2011 is scheduled to be rolled back in January. Senate Democrats say that would lead to cuts in discretionary spending of about 20 percent, and asked agency leaders to spell out for lawmakers Friday what such a decrease would mean.

State Superintendent Chris Koch says the cuts would mean 13,400 teachers would be laid off.

S.A. "Tony" Godinez, director of the Illinois Department of Corrections, said a 20 percent cut would be "nothing short of disastrous." He said the department would be forced to close 11 prison facilities and release 15,500 prisoners into communities.

Republican state Sen. Matt Murphy, however, said Democrats are presenting the "doom and gloom" scenarios to justify extending the tax increase.

State Sen. Dale Righter, a Republican from Mattoon, said Democrats don't want to look at areas of the budget such as Medicaid, where he said efficiencies could be found that would reduce cuts to other state agencies and programs. Democrats defeated a measure Righter sponsored earlier this week to address Medicaid spending.

"You don't want ideas," Righter said. "You just want your ideas."

But State Sen. Dan Kotowski, a Park Ridge Democrat and top Senate budget negotiator, said the numbers are real.

"This is the impact we see," Kotowski said. "This is the reality we've been dealing with."

Gov. Pat Quinn is scheduled to present his proposed 2015 budget on Wednesday.

Contact reporter Brian Brueggemann at bbrueggemann@bnd.com or 239-2511. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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