State officials agree on temporary budget timetable

Doug Finke

Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the four legislative leaders can’t agree on a full-year state budget, but they’ve signed off on a plan to keep the state afloat for one more month.

After a two-hour meeting in Blagojevich’s office Tuesday, the five men said they’ve all agreed to the details of a one-month spending plan. House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said the House will vote on the bill today. That will allow the Senate to vote on the budget Friday or Saturday. Blagojevich’s office said he will sign the spending bill.

The current state budget expires at midnight Saturday. Without more spending authority, the state cannot write checks for employee payrolls and other expenses.

“No one wants to see state government shut down,” said Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson, R-Greenville. “We think we have an obligation to pay those people who work for the state and pay those people that provide services.”

Madigan said the spending plan is largely an extension of what was in place on July 1, 2006, but with some changes.

“It’s not worth getting into,” Madigan said when asked about the changes.

However, he and others said the one-month budget will allow unionized state employees to receive contractual raises scheduled to go into effect July 1.

The General Assembly did the same thing in 2004, the last time a budget impasse sent lawmakers into an extended overtime session. A final budget was approved shortly before the end of July, preventing the need for another stopgap measure.

However, it isn’t clear if Blagojevich and the four leaders will be able to reach agreement on a permanent budget by the end of July this year. Asked how talks are progressing on a full-year budget, Madigan said, “I think we’ll be here for a long time.”

Blagojevich and the four leaders have sharp disagreements about how much additional money the state should spend in the 2008 budget. Madigan, Watson and Cross favor a limited growth budget while Blagojevich and Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, want to see bigger increases, particularly for health care and education.

Jones and Madigan have decided the General Assembly will take next week off, partly because the July 4th holiday falls in the middle of the week. Madigan will release a schedule for the House later this week. Jones said he will call the Senate into session “at least five days a week” beginning July 11 and “work until we get a budget.”

“I think that’s what the people want us to do,” Jones said.