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Cullerton to GOP gov hopefuls: How would you fill $3B budget hole?

Illinois Senate President John CullertD-Chicago Monday demanded  GOP gubernatorial candidates offer their solutions fill state's looming $3 billibudget hole.|

Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, on Monday demanded GOP gubernatorial candidates offer their solutions to fill the state's looming $3 billion budget hole.| Jessica Koscielniak~Sun-Times

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Updated: March 19, 2014 6:31AM

We don’t yet know how our current governor plans to fix an expected $3 billion budget hole, but that didn’t stop Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, on Monday from demanding solutions from those who want to be governor.

Shrugging off Gov. Quinn’s five-week budget address postponement, Cullerton maintained that because the budget covers part of 2015, the budget to be voted on this legislative session in Springfield could belong to a Republican governor should there be a leadership change by the November general election.

“It’s their budget if they’re successful in the election,” Cullerton said during a briefing in Chicago on Monday. “So we need them to tell us now — what do you want us to vote on? Give us the specifics. Don’t give us some fluff. We need to know, because now is the time to vote on it. Don’t wait until after the election,” he said.

Cullerton insisted he wanted a bipartisan budget solution but conceded he wasn’t offering up his own solutions and had not heard any “specifics” from Gov. Pat Quinn’s office, a fellow Democrat. Quinn delayed his budget address until after the March 18 primary election.

“The governor asked for more time and we gave it to them, and the Republicans stood up and complained. They said no, they want to hear from the governor Wednesday. So I said, well if you’re so anxious to talk about the budget on Wednesday, we have a joint committee hearing on Wednesday,” Cullerton said. “You’ve been running for governor for five years, bring in your proposals. If they’re ready to go ahead and talk about the budget, we’re inviting them to come and talk about the budget. But now we have numbers to focus on so they can tell us, just tell us where to go?”

The move immediately drew a thunderstorm of criticism from candidates and Republican leadership who blame Democrats for the budget shortfall after having a supermajority in both chambers and maintaining control of the governor’s mansion since 2003.

State Sen. Kirk Dillard’s campaign dismissed Cullerton’s remarks as “pure politics,” while Bruce Rauner’s campaign said it was an example of Quinn’s lack of leadership. However, the campaigns did not offer specifics on how to plug an expected shortfall when a Quinn-enacted temporary income tax increase expires.

“I wish he was as concerned about Pat Quinn presenting his budget as he is about a gubernatorial candidate,” said state Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington. “He’s the guy who gave Pat Quinn a five-week delay.”

Brady noted he was the only Republican in the four-way primary to vote in favor of pension reform, which could bring more than $1 billion in savings in the first year. However, because of multiple legal challenges to that new law, Cullerton said the state could not yet count on that savings.

“This was pure politics. He delayed his budget until after the primary to see who his Republican opponent will be,” Dillard, of Hinsdale said in a statement. “When I’m governor, I will submit my budget to the legislature, and it will be balanced and on time.”

Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford, who’s also hoping to win the Republican nod for governor, “is concerned about the budget and will monitor the situation,” a campaign spokesman said.

Cullerton mentioned Rauner by name on several occasions, needling Rauner’s past contentions that savings could be had by cutting Medicaid spending.

“When he talks about Medicaid, ask him — maybe he’s unaware of the facts since he’s not in the legislature, that we actually passed this $2.7 billion cut to Medicaid,” Cullerton said, insisting benefits and eligibility have already been sliced.

“There’s not a $3 billion solution in Medicaid, we’ve already done that.”

Under Cullerton’s calculus, the only “adjustable” area in the budget was education.

“Mr. Rauner, I think would say he’s been involved in education a lot. I don’t know what his solution would be, we need to find out what they would suggest is their solution. The same is true of the other three candidates who have all been state senators,” he said.

Cullerton went on the defensive when asked to provide his own solutions.

“I’m here to work and pass the budget. I’m not running for governor. I haven’t been running for governor for five years,” he said. “I assume that the senators . . . have thought about what they think their budget ought to be . . . Mr. Rauner is a challenger and not in the senate, I assume with his staff and the money he’s raised he probably hired people to do research on state budgets since he wants to be the governor. He wants to run it like a business, I’m sure he has staff that has done all this research, [so] tell us, what is your plan? Where do we cut, in his case, $4 billion out of this budget?”

To that, Rauner’s campaign took a direct shot at Quinn’s leadership.

“With Pat Quinn again failing to lead, it’s no surprise that President Cullerton is asking for Bruce Rauner’s help to fix the mess Quinn and the career politicians created,” Rauner spokesman Mike Schrimpf said. “The answers are clear: Enact real pension reform, end the sweetheart deals made with the special interests, and stop the process of spending first and asking where to find the money later.”

Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, called Cullerton’s remarks a deflection from the Democrats’ responsibilities, calling it political posturing and smoke and mirrors. A Radogno spokeswoman noted Democrats have been in control of the Illinois House and Senate for 11 years and Quinn has been in office for five.

“They passed a 67 percent, $21 billion income tax increase — promising to fix the state’s fiscal problems, pay all the bills and phase the tax increase out. It’s clear today they haven’t fixed the problems, haven’t paid the bills and don’t intend to let their so-called temporary tax increase roll back,” Radogno said. “The underlying problems in state government have to be fixed in order for any budget to succeed. We again ask them to join us in enacting policies that will boost our jobs climate so people can get jobs that pay more than minimum wage and stay in Illinois; stop spending money we don’t have and expanding programs we can’t afford; and give taxpayers the relief they need.”


Twitter: @natashakorecki

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