Illinois House approves budget supplement for projects

Posted: Feb. 6, 2013 10:26 am Updated: Feb. 27, 2013 2:15 pm

Herald-Whig Senior Writer

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Appropriation authority that would allow $675 million in Illinois Department of Transportation projects to proceed this year passed the House on Tuesday as part of a larger bill that could come up for a vote in the Senate as early as Thursday.

The measure passed 63-52 with most Republicans opposing the bill that had swelled to nearly $2.1 billion as other spending priorities were added. Rep. Norine Hammond, R-Macomb, and Rep. Jil Tracy, R-Quincy, were among those voting against the bill.

"How can we honestly justify adding $2 billion in additional spending when we already owe nearly $9 billion in unpaid bills?" Hammond asked.

Tracy said there were 90 pages and "some outlandish things" in the bill. One line item that caught her eye called for spending $255,000 for two assistant secretaries in the Department of Human Services. She also opposed the addition of $6.5 million in electrical systems upgrades -- and tens of millions in other spending -- for Chicago State University.

Tracy wanted to vote for a stand-alone road bill that would have allowed the state to capture unexpected federal funding in time for use this construction year.

"It wasn't the option we were given," Tracy said.

Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville, said he generally supports the supplemental appropriation bill, which stays within the spending caps set by the Legislature.

"It's not a perfect bill, but it addresses a lot of the programs that need attention," Sullivan said.

House Republican Leader Tom Cross of Oswego wasn't swayed by explanations that not everything in the legislation is a new expenditure. He urged colleagues to put their efforts into finding ways to reduce the $9 billion overdue bill backlog that has haunted the state for years instead of pushing through a "Christmas tree bill."

The Illinois Department of Transportation would get an added $29 million for projects within District 6, which stretches from Springfield to Quincy. An additional $35 million would be allocated for District 4 in the Peoria area and stretching as far south as Macomb.

Lawmakers were told that most of the supplemental money would go to accelerate multi-year plan projects that had already been announced, Tracy said. Sullivan added there would be some discretionary funds available for projects not in the multi-year plan, such as the Macomb bypass.

In other parts of the spending plan, an allocation of nearly $600 million for group health insurance is among the big ticket items. Another $12 million would go for community mental health grants to fill a budget hold caused by a clerical error last year.

Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, said the bill would save 1,900 jobs at the Department of Children and Family services by adding $25 million to fund the last half of the fiscal year.

Democrats discounted complaints about the size of the supplemental plan by pointing out that funds already have been identified to cover much of the costs. The road plan additions come largely from unexpected federal funds, as well as savings from projects that came in lower than estimated.

Facility closings are expected to save $54 million overall. The $600 million for insurance coverage was intentionally left out of the budget during contract negotiations. Capital development funds, which cannot be used for operational expenses, are paying for some other projects.

Earmarks for some communities and specific facilities are in the bill. Siloam Springs State Park in Adams County is in line for $1.1 million for rehabilitation of the office and service area.

Springfield would get $1 million for a new children's museum in the central business district. Danville would get $115,000 to support creation of a high school basketball hall of fame. Rosiclare would get more than $165,000 in support of a fluorspar miners memorial.

Those new spending plans galled some lawmakers who have seen the elimination of existing facilities or programs in their districts.

Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, said the Tamms Correctional Center, Murray Center, Illinois Youth Center and an unemployment office in Murphysboro have been shuttered by the state. The addition of $1 million to hire new management for state agencies and fund museums is "the wrong way to do it," Bost said.

"The supplemental budget approved today is nothing more than a money grab from Southern Illinois to pay Chicago," Bost said.

Currie said the supplemental budget is "pretty austere" and represents a restrained approach to keeping state operations funded.


The Associated Press provided information for this story.