Senators used the first review of the state's serious budget woes Wednesday to spar along political lines and produce no signs of any progress. Republicans then thwarted Democratic efforts to borrow more money for overdue health care bills.

Chalk up round one of the budget battle in the state Senate to stalemate.

Senators used the first review of the state's serious budget woes Wednesday to spar along political lines and produce no signs of any progress. Republicans then thwarted Democratic efforts to borrow more money for overdue health care bills.

A Senate budget committee considered the first of eight measures that would call for 10 percent cuts across the board in state government - cuts suggested by Republicans including state Sen. Bill Brady, the party's likely nominee for governor.

Committee members heard from university officials about how devastating 10 percent cuts would be to higher education, but took no action. They're expected to continue going over other budget cuts Thursday morning.

State Sen. Donne Trotter, D-Chicago, introduced the bills but only extended the cuts to eight agencies that make up about half of the state budget spending.

The committee's work was seen by some as a political ploy used by Democrats to show the drastic economical effects of Brady's proposal. Democrats were careful not to tie political partisanship to the proposed cutting.

"We are not trying to put anybody on the hot seat," said State Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville, the committee's chairman. "Republicans have said they want 10 percent cuts across the board to services and we wanted to highlight today what the effect of cuts would be."

Republicans filed additional amendments that would extend the cuts to all other state agencies. Democrats in control of a committee that reviews such changes then squashed those.

Brady did not attend the committee but said he hopes the cuts are taken seriously.

"I hope they are sincere about it, we have a horrific problem," he said. "They are bankrupting our universities and our schools because of false promises they have made. They have to come to a real conclusion that we have to discipline ourselves with or within our means so our providers ... can count on what the state of Illinois promises them."

Sullivan said he would welcome Brady to the committee's hearing today and would even allow him to testify on the behalf of the cuts. Brady said he would be open to testifying depending on "the content of the discussion," but wouldn't elaborate on what that would entail.

Sullivan made clear the cuts were not for show. 

"There is no doubt in my mind that (these cuts) are definitely seriously being considered," he said.

Leaders of two large universities appeared to be taking it seriously as well.

A 10 percent cut would cut $74 million out of the University of Illinois' budget from last year and cut $23 million out at Southern Illinois University. Both schools' presidents said the toll would be tremendous.

"For higher education, it's better to think about it in terms of broken futures," U of I President Stan Ikenberry said. "It's easy to erode the quality and access (of higher education), it's not so easy to reconstruct it. And the more quickly this financial crisis is addressed, with both cuts and tax increases, the more likely we are to preserve quality and affordable access to higher education in the state."

SIU President Glenn Poshard said an immediate 15 percent reduction in his university's workforce would be necessary to accommodate the cuts.

Later Wednesday, the two parties went toe-to-toe over borrowing.

Senators approved Senate Bill 642 on a 43-14 vote to allow universities to borrow against money promised by the state but not yet paid this year. That idea now goes to the House.

But a borrowing plan to speed up Medicaid payments to providers fell a vote short, with Republicans uniformly against it.

Trotter said that opposition was illogical because, under the plan, the state would borrow $250 million and leverage $400 million in federal matching funds.
"It is unconscionable," Trotter said of Republican opposition. "They have made up their minds to do nothing to help the state of Illinois."

Republicans said the bill bypasses the established process of borrowing short-term only when the governor, comptroller and treasurer all agree to it. Comptroller Dan Hynes objected to a similar borrowing plan last fall, saying the state could not afford it.

Brian Feldt can be reached at 217-782-6292 or Brian.feldt@sj-r.com.