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      Quinn's "frugal" budget announced, proposes changes in education

      Western School District / KHQA's Melissa Shriver

      UPDATED: February 16 at 3 p.m.

      Gov. Pat Quinn used the words, "reform, responsibility and recovery," early in his budget address on Wednesday.

      He says Illinois can save $100 million by cutting the number of school districts. Quinn announced Wednesday he wants a commission to review school consolidation.

      In presenting his budget proposal, Quinn said the state's "fiscal reality demands consolidation." Illinois has 868 districts, and Quinn says that is too many.

      Quinn also wants to cut $14 million the state spends on 45 regional education offices. He says the State Board of Education can take up their tasks. And he would reduce state spending on bus transportation for students by $95 million. He says local school districts should shoulder that cost.

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      KHQA's Melissa Shriver spoke with Western Community School District Superintendent Rodger Hannel about the budget cuts affecting education.

      Hannel sees a problem when you consolidate school districts and then take away funding for bus routes.

      He says when districts consolidate that almost always increases transportation costs.

      If districts lose transportation funding as suggested by the Governor, he says it might make some districts think twice before consolidating.

      "Consolidation is tough and personal and districts don't like giving up control to larger districts anyway. The only reason why they do it is for the right reasons and to survive and have a better district. But if they want districts to be more efficient on one hand and then cut transportation on the other, that's a disadvantage more than an advantage," says Hannel.

      Hannel adds, consolidated districts get incentive payments from the state of Illinois, but the money has been delayed because of the state's financial difficulties.

      He says if the governor wants more districts to consider consolidation, those payments need to be more timely and reliable.

      KHQA's Chad Douglas spoke to Quincy Public School District Superintendent Lonny Lemon about cuts in transportation funding.

      Lemon says unfortunately downstate districts feel the pinch more than upstate.

      "80 percent of the population in the state are north of I-80, and that's where the votes are. Transportation is not an issue. They don't bus their people. They have a two mile district, they don't have transportation. Them not getting the transportation [money] is not a factor. They don't care," says Lemon.

      You can watch the archived live stream of the entire budget address and read the official budget documents here .

      Governor Quinn inherited a financial disaster from his impeached predecessor and I applaud him for working to restore our state TMs fiscal integrity. But ultimately his budget proposal promises a new high in state spending and $8.75 billion in new borrowing. We need to end the disastrous pattern of ~tax, borrow and spend TM that has put us into this mess. My solution is simple: cut spending, pay off our bills and get our house in order. Once that is done, responsible borrowing with a practical payback timeframe can be considered.

      Illinois families and employers recently endured a massive tax increase to allow the state to make ends meet. They are paying more to their state government than at any time in Illinois history, and they should expect no less than a balanced budget. Today TMs proposal by the Governor still falls short of that goal, and in fact relies on borrowed money to cover-up an operating budget that is $1.7 billion higher than last year.

      The Governor TMs office has indicated a willingness to work with lawmakers and Constitutional officers from both parties to find common ground, and I thank him for that offer. That dialogue provides an opportunity to move away from further discussion of taxing and borrowing, and focus on spending. We must work together to use this fiscal crisis to reassess every dollar spent, and find ways to become more efficient and do more with less. To that end, I encourage all state leaders to craft their own list of savings, or ways to stretch our tax dollars. From long-overdue changes in Medicaid to consolidation of the state TMs fiscal offices, there are things we can do " and time is of the essence.

      - Statement from Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka


      "The number one priority for all of us at the Capitol must be proper cash management. Our state continues to face a multi-billion dollar hole. We need to look for a logical and cost-effective restructuring of our current debt. I call on my fellow government leaders to work together to find solutions that don TMt require long-term, back-loaded borrowing that families will be paying off for more than a decade.

      - Statement from Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford


      The Governor did outline some cuts, but again we were left with some very general proposals, said Rep. Tracy. Making cuts to state programs is painful and difficult, but because our fiscal problems have spiraled so far out of control any solution is going to be painful.

      Rep. Tracy also questioned how spending increases of $1.7 billion will bring fiscal responsibility back to state government. We just saw the largest tax increase in state history forced upon the residents of Illinois, and this budget proposal actually tries to justify state government spending more of your tax dollars, questioned Tracy. No tax hike in the world will eliminate our multi-billion dollar deficit if the state continues to increase spending.

      Quinn TMs budget proposal includes spending growth of around $1.7 billion above last fiscal year. Among the Governor TMs proposed increases are over $600 million for the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, $225 million for Education, and millions of additional dollars for pay increases.

      Quinn did propose some spending cuts, including $95 million from school transportation and the elimination of Illinois Cares Rx saving $107 million. Quinn TMs budget estimates a total of around $1 billion in cuts, with over half coming from reduced Medicaid reimbursements.

      As expected, Governor Quinn did propose borrowing billions of dollars to shore up budget shortfalls. I am keeping an open mind to these proposals but I don TMt think we should be talking about borrowing billions of dollars while at the same time increasing state spending and expanding programs, Tracy said. We need to focus on real spending reforms, going through the budget line by line to find savings and cuts, and proposals to improve the job climate throughout the state.

      - Statement from Illinois State Representative Jil Tracy (R-Mt. Sterling)


      Gov. Pat Quinn is expected to outline his new state budget in a speech to the Illinois House and Senate later Wednesday.

      Quinn has promised to come up with a "very, very frugal" plan.

      Illinois is facing rising costs and slow revenue growth and part of the plan will be to borrow money to pay overdue bills.

      Republicans are vowing to fight the governor's proposal to borrow money.

      KHQA will bring you more details, so check this story later and watch KHQA's News at Five, KHQA's Evening News at 6 p.m. and KHQA's Late News at 10 p.m.