Regional Offices of Education spending to be cut;
operations to be consolidated over next two years
SPRINGFIELD, ILL. – As part of an effort to continue the fiscal belt tightening necessary to help Illinois deal with a sluggish economy and a legacy of overspending, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich today used his veto power to trim $222 million from the fiscal year spending plan passed last month by the General Assembly.
The governor’s vetoes ranged from reducing the operations budgets of the state’s constitutional officers to rejecting salary increases for government officials to cutting the number of Regional Offices of Education in half to eliminating appropriations for corrections’ captains.
“We need to show the same fiscal restraint in state government that working families have been forced to do throughout Illinois,” Blagojevich said. “The budget passed by the General Assembly was an important first step, but we need to continue to look for ways to do more with less and to be fiscally disciplined in this budget process. When times are tough, you have to tighten your belt and live within your means.
“Many difficult decisions had to be made, because of the fiscal mess I inherited. These choices included closing corporate tax loopholes, reducing agency administrative costs, halting merit compensation employees’ pay raises and ending the state’s practice of picking up the employees share of their pension contributions. Making those tough choices gave us the funding necessary to allow for spending more on education, healthcare and public safety and gave us a cushion in case the economy continues to falter.”
Blagojevich has now completed work on all fiscal year 2004 appropriations except for the capital budget (Senate Bill 1239), which was only recently sent by the legislature to the governor’s desk. Of the spending vetoed today, $112 million was in general revenue funds and $110 million in other funds.
As he had promised shortly after the budget was passed, Blagojevich today vetoed $4.5 million set aside for pay hikes for judges and government officials, including the governor and other constitutional officers, agency directors and legislators.
The General Assembly’s budget had included a $3.7 million cost of living increase for Supreme Court, Appellate Court and Circuit Court judges and $791,000 for pay raises for the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, comptroller, treasurer, auditor general, agency directors, assistant agency directors and legislators.
The governor also met with the state’s constitutional officers this week to ask that they reduce their budgets in order to help address the fiscal crisis. The Governor’s Office and the Lt. Governor’s Office both reduced their budgets by 15 percent for FY04, which began July 1.
As a result of the meetings, the governor decided to cut a total of $53 million spending in the Attorney General, Comptroller, Secretary of State and Treasurer’s offices.
“These are difficult economic times and we all have to find ways to do more with less. That’s what leadership is all about,” Blagojevich said. “I’d like to commend Comptroller Dan Hynes for volunteering to reduce his budget by 7.5 percent. That reduction will help us set aside more money for schools, for hospitals, for public safety – money that helps working people and makes their lives better. Dan Hynes has long demonstrated a strong commitment to fiscal discipline and integrity, and his decision to voluntarily reduce his budget in these tough times underscores that commitment.
“Attorney General Lisa Madigan also deserves credit for her decision to reduce her budget 3 percent. Considering the incredible caseload her office handles and her office’s clear responsibility for helping keep the people of this state safe, her willingness to dig deep and find ways to save money on behalf of the taxpayers is noteworthy.”
Blagojevich also said he appreciated the willingness of Secretary of State Jesse White and State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka to reduce their budgets by 3 percent, but felt further savings could be made.
“Jesse White deserves praise for his efforts to reform an office historically plagued by corruption and waste,” the governor said. “Jesse has taken important steps to help restore the public trust in the Secretary of State’s Office and his work has been crucial in helping us recover from the scandals of the past. However, I do believe there is more room for savings in the Secretary of State’s Office and the Treasurer’s Office and have decided to reduce the budgets of both by 7.5 percent.”
The budget reductions announced today include the governor’s intention to trim $22 million from the State Board of Education’s budget for administration of grant programs and to the administrative costs of the Regional Offices of Education.
“I remain solidly committed to providing support for our classrooms, our teachers and our school children,” Blagojevich said. “The education spending plan increases state funding for preschool through 12th grade by $285 million, which includes an increase of $250 per pupil – an increase larger than the prior three budget years combined and the highest since 1999. These reductions are intended to be in administrative costs only and not to reduce grants to school districts, community organizations or other recipients.”
The funding level approved by the General Assembly for the Regional Offices of Educations (ROE) was cut from $17 million to $11 million and the governor ordered the number of ROE offices to be reduced from the current 45 to no more than 22 by July 1, 2005. ROE funding last fiscal year amounted to $23 million.
The regional superintendents will have until May 1, 2005 to develop a new set of not more than 22 regions. The regional superintendent representing the largest county in each new region will
serve as the “successor” regional superintendent and be the fiscal agent, overseeing the distribution of all grants and other appropriations. The remaining regional superintendents will serve as “transitional” superintendents and work cooperatively with the successor regional superintendent on the reorganization plan until 2007.
As part of the agreement with the governor and the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget, the regional superintendents and their assistants have agreed not to increase their salaries during fiscal year 2004.
The governor also vetoed $25 million included in the Illinois Department of Corrections’ (DOC) budget by the legislature to open/reopen a 360-bed juvenile correctional facility in Rushville and a 200-bed work camp in Paris, and for the continued employment of 219 prison captain, who were paid an average of $75,200 a year.
The elimination of the $17.3 million to fund the captains’ positions is part of a plan to streamline the agency’s top‑heavy management structure. The governor stressed that proposed cuts to the DOC bureaucracy are aimed at shifting the agency’s emphasis to staffing front‑line security positions that are critical to the safety of its employees and the inmates incarcerated in the state’s prison system.
The sum total of the governor’s actions today is much greater than the $222 million in cuts. The other reductions reflect technical cuts for funds already expended in fiscal year 2003, errors and spending also included in the capital budget bill, which is still under consideration.