Ill. lawmakers face complicated task as session enters last month | St. Louis Public Radio

Ill. lawmakers face complicated task as session enters last month

May 14, 2012

Reporting from Amanda Vinicky was used in this story.

Like its counterpart in Missouri, the Illinois General Assembly is heading into the home stretch.

Lawmakers there have a bit more time to get through their agenda - their session isn't scheduled to end until the end of May. But unlike lawmakers in Missouri, Illinois legislators have a monumental task in front of them - passing a state budget.

Most state agencies will have their budget cut by 9 percent.

"Right now we're going through line by line," said Rep. Bob Rita, a Democrat from the southwest side of Chicago, near the Indiana border. "Then there's a lot of variables that come into play."

Those variables include Gov. Pat Quinn's plans to shutter a pair of state prisons and several institutions for the developmentally disabled and mentally ill. A legislative commission rejected those closings, but the opinion is only advisory.

The major variable - will lawmakers be able to cut a quarter of the state's Medicaid expenses?

"Why would you be concerned? We've got two and a half week left," said Joe Lyons, another Chicago Democrat. "None of us ever learned different from high school. Cramming at the end, procrastinating 'til the night before when we started studying for our test the next day. It's a horrible way to run the railroad, but I've been down here 16 years and rarely has it been any different."

Lyons said he predicts lawmakers will get everything done by the end of the month. He says he and his colleagues have a head start - last week, both chambers approved a measure that requires state government retirees to pay a premium for their health care for the first time. But there's no signs of agreement yet on pension and Medicaid issues.

The state's entire spending plan is predicated on making those reductions. If they don't happen, Bob Rita - who serves on the House Public Safety appropriations committee - and his colleagues will have to resume their line-by-line quest for further cuts to education and public safety.