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Illinois should maintain education spending and pay a chunk of the state's overdue bills while cutting money for prisons, health care and most other services, Democrats in the state Senate said Friday as they staked out their position for the final days of the legislative session.
The plan outlined by high-ranking senators would dip into money set aside for special purposes and keep some cash that ordinarily goes to local governments. It would require closing state facilities and laying off employees, but the senators offered few details. They answered questions about specifics with long pauses and statements that those decisions are ultimately up to Gov. Pat Quinn.
"Nearly every agency's looking at cuts. I mean, that's unavoidable. There will be the consequences of that," said Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville.
They said this proposal would trim the key category of state spending by $317 million, or a little under 2 percent.
But a Republican budget expert, Sen. Matt Murphy of Palatine, said that disguises the truth. Overall, spending under the Democratic proposal would increase, he said.
"It's the highest proposal for spending anywhere under this dome right now," Murphy said.
Murphy said Republicans favor billions of dollars in additional cuts so that spending will match the amount of money Illinois will have when its temporary income tax expires in 2015. He would not name a single area where Republicans would be willing to cut beyond the Democratic proposal.
The legislative session is scheduled to end May 31, but officials are still struggling with several thorny problems, primarily closing a $2.7 billion hole in the Medicaid program, cutting government pension costs and reducing costs to match the limited revenue expected in the coming year.
In broad strokes, the Senate Democratic proposal resembles the budget Quinn introduced in February. It assumes deep cuts in Medicaid spending, for instance, and pays the full $5.1 billion the state owes to pension funds.
But it holds education spending flat instead of giving it a small boost as the Democratic governor proposed. And it would pay $1.3 billion of the state's roughly $9 billion backlog in unpaid bills, something Quinn did not include.
Quinn's budget office issued a statement praising the Senate Democrats' goals and general approach without endorsing the details.
Also Friday, Quinn signed legislation letting the state resume payments to child care services that help thousands of Illinois families.
The state ran out of money for the services, which left some providers on the verge of shutting down. But lawmakers shuffled money in the budget to come up with an additional $73.6 million to keep the checks rolling out for the rest of the fiscal year, and Quinn immediately signed the bill.
The bill is SB2450
Follow Christopher Wills at https://twitter.com/chrisbwills