NEWS

Legislature shooting for budget deal by Wednesday

Dana Heupel and Adriana Colindres

Legislative leaders said Saturday they are pushing to adopt a state government spending plan by Wednesday, but they are split on whether it should include money for road construction and other capital projects.

Neither the House nor the Senate had a quorum during a brief special session called by Gov. Rod Blagojevich, and both chambers adjourned until 5 p.m. today (Sunday). Legislative leaders planned no formal meetings, but several said they could talk individually with one another or with Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said his focus is on crafting a 12-month budget for operations of state agencies, public schools and programs to help people who are mentally ill, developmentally disabled or living in nursing homes.

"On an operations budget, there's a good solid agreement" among the legislative leaders, he said. "But there are some people who want to link capital to an operations budget, and that's why I keep saying my focus is on an operations budget."

"We need a capital program," Madigan said. "But we need an operations budget first."

"We've agreed on the numbers we can spend" in such areas as education, public health and human services," agreed Sen. Donne Trotter, the Senate Democrats' chief budget negotiator. He added, however, "Now, that can change."

Trotter acknowledged that Senate and House leaders are seeking a compromise that could net about $600 million in new money for education. That figure is about $300 million lower than Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, originally wanted and about $200 million higher than the amount included in a budget the House passed in May, which was never called for a Senate vote.

Jones said he wants any budget deal to contain a capital spending program – up to $10 billion to build roads, bridges, schools and other facilities -- but Trotter said there has been no agreement.

"We have a responsibility as a legislature to get out an operating budget for our agencies" before a Wednesday deadline to make state payments to schools and pay other bills, such as state workers' salaries, Trotter said. "Health care and capital have been based on separate revenue streams."

"Capital is part of the budget," Jones said. "Health care is something we would run separately."

House Republican Leader Tom Cross of Oswego said he also wants to pass a capital program.

"I'd love to do one in the next week," he said, adding: "You know, we're running up against a deadline of making sure people get paid, and that complicates things."

Both Blagojevich and Senate Republicans have said they want a $10 billion program, although they disagree on how it would be distributed. Senate GOP leader Frank Watson of Greenville said he expected to talk individually to the governor on Saturday.

The chief funding source for a construction program could be expanded gambling in the state, although there has been no agreement on whether or how that would be accomplished, Trotter and Senate GOP spokeswoman Patty Schuh said.

Also in potential play are proposed financial help for mass transit in the Chicago area and Blagojevich's program to offer health insurance to all Illinoisans.

Trotter said it was possible that those issues could be dealt with during the legislature's fall veto session if no agreement is reached now.

State government has been operating without spending authority since Wednesday, when a temporary budget expired. Blagojevich has called on lawmakers to pass another one-month budget, but legislative leaders have said they intend to create a spending plan to last through June 30, 2008, when the state's current fiscal year ends.

Blagojevich has indicated that if lawmakers send him a budget that does not include his priorities, a governmental shutdown could happen as early as next week.

Dana Heupel can be reached at (217) 788-1518 or dana.heupel@sj-r.com. Adriana Colindres can be reached at (217) 782-6292 or Adriana.colindres@sj-r.com