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Illinois Gov. May Trim Budget In 'Emergency,' Court Holds

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Springfield, Ill.--The Illinois Supreme Court has upheld the power of Gov. James P. Thompson to cut $159 million--including $42 million from elementary and secondary education--from this year's budget.

The Governor's authority to impose budget reductions under the Emergency Budget Act of 1982 had been challenged in Cook County Circuit Court by welfare recipients who lost medical benefits because of a $54.6-million reduction in the Department of Public Aid budget.

Judge Albert Porter sided with the plaintiffs and issued a preliminary injunction in January blocking all of Mr. Thompson's proposed budget cuts.

The Governor appealed the decision to the state's highest court and in Warrior v. Thompson, a divided supreme court overturned the Cook County ruling and said the administration's action did not violate either state law or equal-protection provisions of the Illinois constitution.

For Illinois schools, the court ruling confirms a loss of $36 million in general state aid for this year and nearly $6 million from categorical programs such as special education, bilingual, gifted, adult and vocational education.

The cuts imposed by Governor Thompson differed from recommendations made by the Illinois state board of education, which urged that state-aid cuts be limited to $24 million. The board also suggested eliminating an $11-million textbook-subsidy program and curtailing teacher-retirement support by $4.5 million, but the Governor did not take up any of those recommendations.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court majority said the General Assembly did not illegally delegate its authority over appropriations to the Governor. And the court said the elimination of medical assistance for the working poor did not violate equal-protection provisions of the state constitution.

However, in a dissenting opinion, Justice Seymour Simon said the emergency budget act improperly gave the Governor power to eliminate programs at his will and without legislative review.

The budget act was approved by the legislature in December after Governor Thompson announced that the state would face a $200-million deficit by the end of fiscal 1983 unless it took emergency austerity measures.

Lawmakers placed a 2-percent ceiling on cuts from any single agency.

Unions representing teachers and state employees also challenged the budget act, but that case was dismissed after the Cook County ruling.

Since passage of the legislation, the administration has said the state faces an additional $300-million shortfall for this fiscal year, which is to be met by short-term borrowing and cuts in state funds for pension programs.

Governor Thompson also has proposed a $1.6-billion income-tax increase to meet mounting 1984 obligations and to restore some of the funds cut from education and social-service programs.

Without that tax boost, the Governor has said, funding for elementary and secondary schools would decrease by another $206 million in 1984.

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