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Quinn predicts $400 million less for education in next budget

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013 9:58 a.m. CST

(MCT) — Gov. Pat Quinn's administration is projecting a $400 million reduction in education spending in the next budget after the state failed to rein in government worker pension costs.

If that holds up, the governor would unveil a financial blueprint that would result in state education funding going down for the third consecutive year. The move also would be part of a broad-based, across-the-board slice made throughout most of state government. Among major exceptions would be health care spending for the poor, which is expected to rise after cuts last year, and public safety, an area projected to be mostly flat after the recent closure of two prisons, according to new preliminary figures.

"The explosive growth in the state pension payments means every other part of the budget has less money," said Abdon Pallasch, Quinn's budget spokesman. "The pain's going to get worse and worse every year before we fix this pension problem."

The money pressure is intensifying at a fast clip. The standard annual pension costs are expected to rise from about $5.2 billion this year to $6.2 billion in the new budget that begins July 1, but the overall cost is even higher. The total pension drain could hit almost $7.9 billion — about one-fourth of the state's operating budget. The higher figure includes $1.66 billion in repayments of loans taken out to cover annual pension costs in previous years.

"No question, that's a lot of money," said Rep. Will Davis, D-Homewood. "It is clear that we've got to figure out how to manage pensions in the state of Illinois."

Davis, who chairs the House appropriations budget panel overseeing kindergarten through high school, said he will push for additional revenues coming into Illinois to be considered for schools.

He was a co-sponsor of a pension reform proposal unveiled before the end of the last session that would have led to significant savings in the next budget, a move that potentially could provide relief. But without the terms of a pension fix nailed down, one of the questions hanging in the spring session is whether a pension fix would free up money for programs like education or if those dollars would be used for other needs, such as paying down the billions of dollars in backlogged bills.

Over the past two budgets, the state made cuts in education funding of $162 million and $209 million, Davis said. Quinn previously has asked for more in education funding than the Legislature has been willing to give in previous years.

Quinn is scheduled to unveil his budget proposal in late February, but he has asked for more time. Also Tuesday, Quinn told reporters that gambling expansion is a "secondary issue to the most paramount issue we have to face, and that's the whole pension reform."

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