Quinn targets pension reform in budget address

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn

Education will sustain a painful hit in a new State of Illinois spending plan unveiled today during Gov. Pat Quinn’s annual budget address.

Calling it the “most difficult budget ever,” the governor said the state must solve its public-employee pension crisis, which will drain nearly $7 billion of the Illinois general revenue in the coming year.

However, Quinn’s script did not mention what his budget chief, Jerry Stermer, told reporters Tuesday: The pension obligation in education jumped from $4.1 billion in last year’s budget to $5 billion, leaving $400 million less for education.

“This is the most difficult budget I have ever submitted to you,” Quinn told members of the General Assembly who had gathered in Springfield.

“But this is also an honest budget that reflects our fiscal challenges, pays down the backlog of bills and addresses funds that have been under-appropriated for too long. There are no gimmicks or fake numbers in this budget.”

Quinn scolded the lawmakers for delaying pension reform, saying the state cannot continue on its current path: “What are you waiting for?”

“Inaction on comprehensive pension reform has left our state with less revenue for our most important priorities. Without pension reform, within two years, Illinois will be spending more on public pensions than on education,” he said.

“Every day you wait to vote on this matter – the problem gets worse. It is costing taxpayers an additional $17 million a day. Illinois taxpayers are losing patience,” he added.

“If I could issue an Executive Order to resolve the pension crisis, I would. And I would have done it a long time ago. But democracy requires action by the executive branch and the legislative branch. It’s time for you to legislate. So take the vote. Send me a comprehensive pension reform bill.”

Despite the state’s financial woes, the governor pledged to preserve the state’s investment in the Monetary Award Program to Illinois college students in financial need.

Quinn cited statistics that indicate that the average college graduate earns 75 percent more than the average high school graduate. Meanwhile, he added, the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that most of the 30 fastest-growing jobs in the nation will require education beyond high school.

“Access to higher education is fundamental to a student’s earning potential and career path,” Quinn said. “Scholarships for needy college students are an investment that Illinois can’t afford to cut.”

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