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The Associated Press May 4, 2011, 9:58PM ET

Ill. Senate begins tackling state budget

Democrats in the Illinois Senate began passing a budget Wednesday that they say would be responsible and affordable. Just don't expect details, including how much it would cost taxpayers.

Republicans complained that the proposal wouldn't cut spending nearly enough. But they didn't bother introducing their own legislation for deeper cuts.

Meanwhile, Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn maintained his budget plan remains the best option, despite the widespread criticism of its $1.7 billion in additional spending.

The budget and its vast deficit are getting plenty of attention at the state Capitol, but there's little sign of the key players working together on a resolution.

Senate Democrats passed parts of a budget Wednesday, using revenue projections rejected by both the governor and the Democratic House. What they passed did not include key government services, from prisons to welfare to education, and it's not clear when those pieces will be addressed.

The size of the budget proposal was something of a mystery. Senate Democrats provided no summary of their plan.

What they have said about it indicates it would soften some specific cuts proposed by Quinn -- for instance, reducing Medicaid rates by 3 percent instead of the governor's 5 percent -- while imposing broad operations cuts at many agencies.

A hurried review by Senate Republicans concluded the Democratic plan would spend about $360 million less than Quinn has proposed. Republicans said that's not good enough.

"If we're going to get to a point where the tax increase is truly temporary, if we're going to be at a point where we can pay our bills without more borrowing, if we're going to get on the path to fiscal sanity, we need to do more budget-cutting than this," said Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine.

Democrats argued it's easy to call for cutting and much harder to do it. They noted Republicans chose not to propose amendments that would reduce spending even further.

"Just give us your amendment, your alternative ... and we can vote on it," said Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago. "If you don't want to do that, then let's just vote on these bills."

Democratic lawmakers approved an income tax increase earlier this year that is supposed to be temporary. It has helped bring the state closer to matching revenues and expenses, but Illinois government still has about $8 billion in overdue bills and obligations it must pay.

Quinn has called for borrowing money to pay those bills, an idea opposed by many lawmakers. His proposal to increase spending also fell flat.

But Quinn defended his plan Wednesday.

"I put a budget out there. I think it's the best budget," he said. "We're always willing to listen to others with different opinions, but they have to be specific. Just waving your hand and saying we want to do something different, that's not enough."


Associated Press writer Zachary Colman contributed to this report.

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