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The Associated Press March 17, 2011, 6:24PM ET

GOP senators propose $6.7B in cuts to Ill. budget

In their most detailed budget proposal yet, Republican state senators promised Thursday to vote for deep cuts in spending on schools and aid to local governments to help close Illinois' massive deficit.

They also renewed their call to cut health care costs and slash retirement benefits for government employees, even if it requires a constitutional amendment.

In all, their plan would reduce spending by $6.7 billion, which Republicans said would be more than enough to let Illinois reverse the new income tax increase and make progress on paying its overdue bills.

Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn quickly rejected the proposal as "foolhardy," but Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said it could provide a baseline for budget negotiations.

The biggest piece of the Republican plan is also the most speculative: cutting pension costs.

GOP lawmakers say "meaningful" pension reforms could reduce spending by $1.35 billion. But the Illinois Constitution prohibits cuts to current state employees' retirement benefits, limiting what the state can do to reduce costs.

A constitutional amendment might be needed, Republicans acknowledged at a Statehouse news conference.

The other major piece in their plan is a $1.3 billion cut to Medicaid, a health program for the poor. That amounts to 12.5 percent and could require removing some people from the program, making the rest pay more and eliminating some medical services.

Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, said at least 15 of the caucus' members would support each of the proposed cuts -- leaving Democrats to provide the other 15 votes needed for passage.

Unless officials act now to cut costs, she said, Illinois will face a $22.7 billion deficit in 2016, when most of the new tax increase is scheduled to expire.

"Nobody in this building ever thinks beyond a year or two," Radogno said.

Much of the Republican proposal has been discussed in general terms for years. Pensions are a frequent target for proposed cuts, as are health costs.

But Thursday's plan provided new detail in some areas.

The senators proposed a $725 million cut in spending on elementary and secondary education. Higher education would take a $200 million hit. Each cut amounts to about 10 percent less in state support, the senators said.

Local government aid would be cut by $300 million, and the state would make across-the-board cuts to save $460 million. A long list of agencies would see further cuts, including $250 million from Human Services, $95 million from Corrections and $140 million from Children and Family Services.

Quinn's budget proposal would raise state spending by $1.7 billion. It also calls for borrowing billions to pay overdue bills.

Speaking to reporters in Washington, Quinn said the Republican proposal would cut jobs and spending just as Illinois is recovering from recession.

"I believe that investing in education, health care, human services, public safety -- that's part of an economy that recovers," Quinn said.

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