Lawmakers to tackle security, budget woes

Monday, November 12, 2001

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Whatever the agenda for the Legislature's fall veto session, it changed Sept. 11.

Lawmakers returning to Springfield Tuesday are thinking about the security concerns the terrorist attacks raised and the economy that they toppled.

Falling state income, increased spending on security and unanticipated costs for existing programs combined to force lawmakers to tinker with the budget.

"State revenues are all down considerably," Senate President James "Pate" Philip, R-Wood Dale, said last week. "We're probably going to have to make some cuts, so I guess that's the priority. The governor's told us that everything is on the table."

Budget experts estimate that state revenues will fall $450 million short of expectations. At the same time, Illinois leaders feel pressure to spend more to prevent a terrorist strike or cope with one that occurs.

In addition, lawmakers during the six-day session must face a fall tradition -- supplemental appropriations to cover unanticipated expenses, which total nearly $400 million.

2 percent in reserve

Gov. George Ryan has made moves he hopes will save $350 million, directing state agencies to reserve 2 percent of their budgets, freeze hiring and cut equipment purchases and travel.

He hopes to get $100 million more from the federal government this year and is lobbying for another $100 million from Washington for security enhancements. Lawmakers hope that will be enough.

"The Legislature will give the governor every opportunity to manage this thing within the parameters of the budget that's out there with the powers he has," said Rep. Gary Hannig, D-Litchfield.

But it's more than just falling revenue that might cripple the budget. There are $391 million in bills that no one expected when the $53.4 billion budget was crafted last spring.

The state's self-insurance plan and one that insures retired teachers will run out of money before the end of the fiscal year. Medicaid health coverage for the poor is underfunded, and there are more bills than expected for expanded prescription coverage for seniors and a home services program. And the state owes $126 million on past-due or other upcoming bills.

To find money, Philip said lawmakers will have to turn to the big programs -- education and human services. That doesn't sit well with service providers.

"When times were flush with the state and its finances, we weren't the beneficiaries, but now that times get tough, we seem to be the first areas that get cut," said Len Lieberman of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, a group of organizations that provide state-financed programs.

Security concerns are rising. Hearings are scheduled on Attorney General Jim Ryan's proposals to help authorities catch terrorists by doing such things as expanding wiretapping authority.

And Rep. Mike Boland, D-Moline, plans to push his plan to install metal detectors in the Capitol and Chicago's James R. Thompson Center at an estimated cost of $2 million.

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