Peoria Journal Star

February 4, 2003

Budget includes military buildup
Some say proposals could hurt Illinois


By DORI MEINERT
of Copley News Service

WASHINGTON, D.C. - President Bush's proposed 2004 budget would boost education and health-care funding to Illinois, while reducing money flowing to highways and farm conservation in the state. 

Bush would spend about $484 million on schools serving the poorest areas in Illinois, $61 million more than what was spent in fiscal 2002, a White House fact sheet highlighted. Illinois would receive about $4.89 billion to provide health care to poor people under the federal Medicaid program, an increase of $38 million.

But Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said many of Bush's proposals would severely hurt states like Illinois that already are facing mounting budget deficits. Bush's policy would increase the nation's public debt to nearly $5 trillion and spend the $2.2 trillion Social Security Trust Fund, Durbin said.

Illinois would receive less in Medicaid in the latter half of the decade to make up for increased funding in the early years, Durbin said.

In addition, the Bush plan doesn't fully fund the school improvements required by the federal No Child Left Behind law, creating a greater burden for states and local school districts, Durbin said. Currently, 61 percent of Illinois' school districts are operating at a deficit, he noted.

Bush's budget proposal "continues his failed tax policies at the expense of Social Security and Medicare, shortchanges education funding, reduces resources for local police and law enforcement agencies, shifts the burden of paying for environmental clean-up from corporate polluters to ordinary taxpayers, and resorts to budgetary game-playing," Durbin said.

Typically, Congress significantly alters presidential budget proposals. This year, the budget process is complicated by the fact that Congress has yet to conclude its work on funding bills for fiscal 2003, which began last Oct. 1.

Like last year, Bush has called for a reduction in the amount that Congress is expected to spend on highways in fiscal year 2003. The White House proposal seeks $28.6 billion, less than the $31.8 billion that a Senate-approved catchall funding bill included and less than the $31.8 billion that was approved in fiscal 2002.

The proposal may complicate lawmakers' work on a new long-term transportation policy for the nation this year, said Keith Ashdown, spokesman for Taxpayers for Common Sense.

"I don't know how they're going to raise the revenues they need to feed the congressional appetite for highways and other transportation projects," Ashdown said.

State transportation officials had no immediate comment.

The Bush budget plan was sharply criticized by environmental groups for calling for a 29 percent reduction in funding for the Wetlands Reserve Program in fiscal 2004. The farm bill passed by Congress last year called for 250,000 acres a year to be enrolled in the program. But the Bush plan proposes only 178,000 acres.

National Wildlife Federation President Mark Van Putten called the program "one of the most successful tools in history to help farmers conserve America's wetlands and wildlife."

The White House proposal also calls for $3.2 million for an ongoing study of a proposed lock and dam expansion on the upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers, a 12.6 percent increase from fiscal 2002.

However, the administration also set up what appeared to be a new hurdle for an expansion plan backed by shippers and farmers. The first economic analysis, conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was found biased in favor of construction by two government agencies.

In a policy statement praised by government watchdog groups, the Bush administration called for a new economic model and said the government should only proceed "with those new projects that provide a very high net economic or environmental return to society relative to their cost."

The proposed corps' budget also includes $600,000 for ongoing environmental restoration work on the Peoria riverfront, as well as $652,000 for the Illinois River Basin and ecosystem restoration.

The president also called for $900 million for Amtrak, but Amtrak supporters said that's about $1 billion less than what is needed for fiscal 2004. Congress is expected to approve $1.2 billion for this fiscal year.