Illinois Senate rejects roads bill, adjourns until next week

Posted: Jan. 4, 2013 10:16 am Updated: Jan. 25, 2013 11:15 am

Herald-Whig Senior Writer

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Illinois Senate leaders canceled their Friday session, leaving legislation on gay marriage and an assault weapons ban undecided.

A Senate committee on Thursday rejected a proposal that would have provided $675 million more for road and bridge projects, school construction and funds to avoid layoffs at the Department of Children and Family Services.

State Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville, said the legislation that would have sent $275 million more to the Illinois Department of Transportation will almost certainly come up again.

"We're still talking about the bill. It's not dead," Sullivan said.

The transportation funding plan was expected to pass easily in the lame-duck session until it was lumped in with several other funding measures. Along with $400 million in additional transportation funds, lawmakers were seeking to free up $88 million that has been accumulating in a fund involving casino gambling licenses and horse racing tracks.

"It's so complicated it's unbelievable," Sullivan said.

One of the Chicago-area lawmakers voted against the plan in hopes of requiring IDOT to boost minority hirings. Some other legislators voted against the plan primarily because it would send all $88 million in gambling dollars to Chicago projects. Some committee members also were seeking more information from IDOT officials about which projects would be priorities.

Sullivan said the funding tor DCFS was not controversial and seemed to be supported by most committee members.

IDOT officials said about $400 million in additional funds come from a variety of sources. A funding-formula change after a new federal transportation law adopted last summer meant $175 million more federal money for Illinois, according to the Associated Press.

Limiting the use of state road fund money to pay for state employee group insurance and workers' compensation, something Sullivan and other lawmakers have pushed with groups such as the Transportation for Illinois Coalition, frees up $110 million more. An unanticipated jump in motor vehicle registration fees, the availability of additional local government money for transportation projects and savings from construction bids that came in under engineers' estimates bring the five-year total to $400 million -- with $275 million accessible this year.

Sullivan had welcomed the added $275 million for transportation projects and had hoped it would be approved in the lame duck session so that IDOT could tackle additional projects during the spring construction season.

State Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, chose not to call her gay marriage bill for a vote Thursday. Three senators were absent from Thursday's session who Steans considers supporters for the measure. A strong lobbying effort against the bill by Illinois religious leaders also was an issue.

"People are changing their minds every day. This is never going to be an easy one, but it's only going to get easier," Steans said.

Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said it mimght be weeks before Steans bill gets a vote in the full Senate.

Legislation that would ban assault weapons and another bill that would ban high-capacity magazines did not come up for a vote even after a committee on Wednesday passed them on for consideration by the full Senate.

The Senate approved a measure to curb union growth among state employees. Gov. Pat Quinn has expressed support for the bill, which would exclude some workers from joining collective-bargaining units.

Quinn remains optimistic that lawmakers will send him a solution to a monstrous pension problem next week despite the Senate's abrupt departure Thursday from the Capitol. Cullerton has told members to be ready to return Tuesday after the Illinois House returns Sunday, with plans to have sessions each day through Wednesday, when the newly elected lawmakers will take office.

Spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said Quinn and his staff continue to meet with legislative leaders and "progress has been made" on resolving a $96 billion debt in state pension accounts.

The Senate plans no major pension action.