Chris Essig

Walkthroughs, tips and tricks from a data journalist in eastern Iowa

More bad fiscal news as Quinn posts budget online

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– Two weeks before taking center stage and delivering his highly-anticipated budget address to the general public, Gov. Pat Quinn last week posted a rough sketch of his FY10 budget online for public scrutiny. It is being dubbed the “first-ever interactive budget web site,” but more on that in a second. Most importantly, though, are the figures themselves, which are both bleak and depressing. Among other things, Quinn is called for $2 billion in cuts, including almost $1 billion in education funding. Most of the cuts come because the federal stimulus plan helped bail out the state last year and that pot of money may not return in 2010. This led to the bureau’s weekend story, which took a look at federal funding and whether or not it’s going to come through again this year.

I didn’t have a very large role in the story and only talked to a handful of local lawmakers. I asked them whether or not they would be in favor of another stimulus plan, or whatever Obama decides to call it. They were split along part lines:

State Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, supports the idea.

“We need all the help we can get,” Forby said. “And I think the rest of the states in the United States need the same thing.”

But Republicans balked, saying the move would only add to the national debt.

“At some point there needs to be a reckoning where you say ‘OK, this is a problem and we’re going to deal with it here in the state and not beg for money from Washington,’” State Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, said.

Regardless of whether or not we get more stimulus funding, the state budget is going to be in dismal shape. Quinn is using his doomsday proposal to once again push for an income tax increase, which will be very unpopular inside the Statehouse. As it stands, Democrats are insisting a tax increase would have to be bipartisan, while Republicans contend the Dems are just looking for political cover. As the going gets even tougher, and the impasse continues, human service providers, teachers and the millions of needy Illinois residents will be holding their breaths and hoping the thick slashes Quinn is proposing don’t materialize.

Meanwhile, one columnist is comparing our response to the budget crisis to the captains on the Titanic, staring straight at an upcoming iceberg but doing little to avoid it:

After all, Quinn, Madigan and Cullerton are smart men. Madigan, it is said, is always thinking five moves ahead.

Certainly, if the danger were as serious as it appears, he would do something. He would not want to be known forever as the man at the helm when the ship crashed.

I close my eyes. Rub them hard. Open them again.

Yep, it sure looks like an iceberg to me.

But there is no panic in Madigan’s eyes and the hint of a smile on his lips. Is he a madman or a genius?

Ugh.

– Perhaps the only light side of the budget proposal was the public comment section on the web site, which the administration tout as the first of its kind. Basically, citizens can log on and offer suggestions on how Quinn should slash next year’s budget. This once again shows the governor’s populous side, and he may even use some of the more constructive suggestions in next week’s budget address.

But as newspapers have learned over the years, if you allow residents to post anonymously online without much oversight or consequences, the results may vary. And some of the responses were down-right…well just take a look at a few of my favorites:

• Billy Bob of Decatur said the state should “enhance the three strikes you’re out to three strikes and you’re dead. We need mobile execution vehicles like China has.”

• James E. Heafner of Godfrey wants the Illinois State Fair closed and the fairgrounds converted into a pet cemetery.

• Boris Sadkhin of Skokie suggested reducing “garbage pick up frequency.” He said that “if garbage is picked up less frequently, people will be encouraged to make less trash or face living with it.”

Full story.

To be fair, a number of level-headed commenters also made suggestions, which can be found here and here.

But the budget itself is no joke. Just ask anyone who depends on state money to operate his or her business. I guess we’ll see in a few weeks just how Draconian the situation really is…

God help us all.

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Written by csessig

March 2, 2010 at 12:06 am

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