SPRINGFIELD — At the same time Gov. Pat Quinn is spreading a doomsday budget message, his fellow Democrats are discussing plans to boost state spending on Medicaid.
Lawmakers in the House and Senate have been meeting behind closed doors in recent days to discuss restoring dental care benefits and podiatry services that were eliminated as part of a 2012 cutback of Medicaid aimed at saving $1.6 billion.
In addition to restoring some benefits, the discussions also could affect the rates paid to hospitals.
The talks come against the backdrop of the Quinn administration's campaign to convince the General Assembly to keep the temporary tax increase intact. The governor says state programs will suffer massive reductions in funding if the current 5 percent income tax rate rolls back to 3.75 percent on Jan. 1.
Although Democrats in the Senate appear to be on board with the tax extension, House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, says there is not enough support for the tax increase in the House.
Joining Quinn in lobbying for the tax extension is the Illinois Hospital Association, which has a stake in the outcome of the Medicaid discussions.
State Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, said the talks hinge on what happens with the tax increase.
"A lot of it is going to depend on if there is revenue there to pay for it," Harris said.
Republicans say its ridiculous for Democrats to talk about avoiding a budget apocalypse by raising taxes while at the same time meeting behind closed doors to discuss an expansion of spending.
"They are clearly not interested in our input," said state Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon.
State Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, said some of the proposed changes are necessary in order to comply with new federal rules.
In addition, she and Harris said a review of programs cut in the Medicaid reforms of 2012 found that it could cost less to add back adult dental care and podiatry services in order to stop people from going to emergency rooms, where treatment is more expensive.
"We've found some of these things are not working out quite the way we thought," Harris said.
"There were some things that just needed some refinement," Steans said.
Righter said Democrats should not undermine the reforms of 2012, especially at a time when the governor is asking to extend the tax hike.
"If you are a responsible leader, you do things you don't want to do because they are necessary," Righter said.