SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Gov. George Ryan proposed a $52.8-billion budget Wednesday that would drag state government out of the red by cutting thousands of jobs and reducing payments to doctors and pharmacists who care for the poor.
He called for closing two prisons and a center for the mentally ill as the state adjusts to a dramatic drop in tax revenues.
The austerity comes after flush years in which the state provided new services and ambitious brick-and-mortar projects while giving refunds to taxpayers.
"The fiscal year 2003 budget I propose today is lean, it's fair and it's balanced," Ryan said in his last budget and State of the State address.
Critics have proposed bringing in more money by raising cigarette or riverboat taxes, but Ryan said that would not win legislative approval in an election year.
Ryan warned that he would not accept changes to the budget that add to government spending.
"If that happens again this year, I will have to veto the entire budget. You can take that to the bank," Ryan said to stony silence.
As in many other states, Illinois' government faces its toughest financial crisis in a decade.
Tax revenues fell by hundreds of millions of dollars last fall as recession, driven deeper by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, froze the economy. At the same time, state expenses climbed sharply, especially for medical services.
Ryan responded to the falloff by cutting nearly $500 million from the current year's budget and spending every surplus dollar. He sought approval for further cuts, but lawmakers--particularly House Democrats--refused to cooperate.
Ryan's budget seeks to reduce the number of employees under his control by 3,800. About 3,000 people would be laid off, with 800 more positions lost through attrition. Early retirement offers could bring the cuts to 5,000.