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5/31/2014 3:04:00 PM
Lawmakers pass $1B capital bill, adjourn session

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Almost a day ahead of deadline, the Illinois General Assembly wrapped up its spring session early Saturday after approving a $1 billion capital bill to fund road and bridge projects around the state.

Gaveling in just after midnight and out a few minutes later, lawmakers headed home to their districts with several looming issues unaddressed — a byproduct, members said, of the upcoming November election. The House adjourned Friday evening.

The capital bill was the last order of business in a relatively quiet, election-shadowed session in which majority Democrats approved a patchwork $35.7 billion budget they acknowledged puts off tough decisions. Senate Democrats signed off Friday on a budget the House approved earlier in the week, leaving until after the election a decision whether to extend the temporary hike in the state’s income tax, find other revenues or cut more than $4 billion in programs and services.

“With an election in the next six months, it’s probably wise not to be overaggressive,” said state Rep. Mike Zalewski, a Riverside Democrat, adding that neither side was “happy” with the passed budget. “I feel like we’ve done what we need to do. Now we need to go home and see who the next governor is going to be.”

The governor’s race pits incumbent Democrat Pat Quinn, who has advocated the tax extension, against Republican businessman Bruce Rauner, who has called for deeper spending cuts. All 118 House seats are up for re-election, as are a third of the Senate seats.

The capital construction project — approved with bipartisan support Thursday by the House — passed the Senate by a 52-5 vote without debate. Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider said it would fund “shovel-ready” road and bridge projects across the state expected to start this summer.

While highlighting differences between Democrats and Republicans over taxes and spending, the session wrap-up also reflected tensions between Quinn and Democratic legislative leaders.

Quinn had lobbied hard for passage of the tax extension, but couldn’t persuade his party colleagues to approve it this spring. Before adjourning, lawmakers also approved two measures expressing their displeasure over recent differences with the governor.

The first would assure that lawmakers receive a “continuing appropriation” for their salaries. It was a response to Quinn’s decision last year to use his veto pen to block lawmakers’ pay until they moved more quickly to overhaul the state’s pension crisis. The second would provide funding for the Capitol architect, a subtle response to Quinn’s threat to hold up any future renovations after controversy dogged the last ones unveiled.

“This was a stressful session,” Madigan told reporters. “The governor didn’t get everything he wanted, but that’s the nature of the Legislature. That’s the nature of American government.”

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, alluding to the rejection of the tax extension, described several instances where his caucus “walked away and said no to things we believe have been bad for our economy, bad for families in Illinois.”

“My job is to win seats, enough that if Rauner is governor, it won’t be this current Democratic veto-proof majority in the House,” he said.

Among the measures passed late Friday was one allowing election-day voter registration during the November election. Advocates said it’ll make sure more Illinois residents’ voices are heard, but Republicans called it an attempt to drive Democratic turnout.

A measure that stalled was an effort to expand gambling in the state, either by adding five new casinos or one mega-casino in Chicago. On Friday, Democratic Rep. Bob Rita announced he had suspended his efforts to pass the perennial expansion effort again.

Recap: What passed in Legislature, what didn’t

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — The Illinois Legislature adjourned its spring session having passed a new state budget and other key measures, but leaving some business undone. Here’s a look at what passed — and what didn’t:

BILLS SENT TO GOV. PAT QUINN:  

Budget: A roughly $35.7 billion budget for 2015 keeps funding flat for schools and most state agencies. Majority Democrats acknowledged the budget is “incomplete” because it postpones tough votes about whether to slash spending or find new revenue until after November’s election.  

Capital construction: The bill to provide $1 billion for road and bridge projects surfaced in the final days of the session and passed with bipartisan support. It will use money from a prior capital plan.

Ballot measures: Looking to drive voter turnout, majority Democrats approved multiple nonbinding referendums for the November ballot. Among them: Asking voters whether Illinois’ minimum wage should be increased, an extra tax on millionaires should be imposed and prescription drug coverage plans should be required to include birth control.

Voting: A bill passed allowing election-day voter registration for this year’s November election. Advocates say it gives more Illinois residents a voice; Republicans called it an attempt to drive Democratic voter turnout.

Juvenile arrest records: The measure would erase some arrest records for juveniles who weren’t charged or convicted of the alleged crime. Supporters said it would give young people a better chance to get jobs, enter college and avoid gang violence.

Medicaid: If the measure is signed, the health care program for low-income and disabled people would expand to include adult dental and podiatry services. Those services were cut in 2012 to save money, but the measure’s supporters said the cuts meant more patients sought expensive emergency-room treatment.

Chicago pensions: Lawmakers passed a measure to help Chicago with two of its underfunded pension systems, but no action was taken on the city’s bigger police, fire and teachers pensions.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS:

Tax increase extension: House Speaker Michael Madigan said he couldn’t garner the “yes” votes to make Illinois’ temporary income tax increase permanent. But he and other supporters, including Quinn, are expected to make a postelection attempt.

Obama presidential library: A proposal to set aside $100 million in construction money to help attract Barack Obama’s presidential library to Chicago passed a House committee but never came to the floor due to concerns over spending in a tough budget year.  

Pensions: Municipalities across Illinois wanted relief for skyrocketing police and fire pension costs, but the issue never gained traction. A plan to address Cook County’s pensions failed to get a final House vote.  

Gambling: Supporters failed to rekindle efforts to expand gambling — either by adding five new casinos or one mega-casino in Chicago — as a source of much-needed revenue.

Oil drilling: Lawmakers who support the drilling process commonly known as “fracking” proposed legislation to speed the startup of the practice. Instead, they will urge the state to more quickly write rules to regulate it.

Property tax refunds: Quinn said in his March budget address he wanted to give every Illinois homeowner a $500 property tax refund instead of a property tax credit. The proposal never advanced, partly because it would have cost the state more.

School funding: The most serious proposal to overhaul Illinois’ school funding formula in more than a decade passed the Senate but stalled in the House. It would have required schools to demonstrate need before receiving money and reduced the amount of state aid to wealthier districts.  

Lincoln library: Madigan proposed splitting the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, saying the institution needed to be independent. The Senate never took up the bill but Senate President John Cullerton said it was worth another look.


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