THE ILLINOIS General Assembly has approved a $2.1 billion supplemental spending measure that will enable the state to meet critical transportation needs and provide vital services.
Importantly, the measure accomplishes this by reallocating available funds. The Office of Management and Budget notes that, "The bill provides for no new revenue sources, nor does the bill require any additional State spending. This Bill does not directly have any significant fiscal impact."
Furthermore, the state -- with these reallocations -- still remains under the spending caps that the General Assembly approved last year in setting the current budget.
Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville, is commended for supporting the measure -- a creative solution to meeting vital state needs without worsening the state's fiscal crisis. Sullivan rightly noted that, "It's not a perfect bill, but it addresses a lot of programs that need attention."
Rep. Jill Tracy, R-Quincy, and Rep. Norine Hammond, R-Macomb, opposed the legislation along with the entire Republican caucus in the House because they believe Illinois should focus its efforts -- and any budget savings -- on reducing the state's $9 billion backlog in unpaid bills.
While deficit reduction is critically important, lawmakers must balance that priority against the need to sustain vital services and grow the economy.
This spending measure strikes that balance -- moving Illinois forward while staying within budget guidelines and without adding new debt. Sullivan understood that this was the right step to take at this time and cast a vote that was in the best interest of Illinois and this district.
The spending plan will save jobs, create jobs, provide important services and make critical investments in transportation infrastructure and other capital projects.
Recognizing these benefits, and the need for timely action, Gov. Pat Quinn and members of his administration worked closely with legislative leaders to develop and advance the legislation.
The benefits of this bill are clear.
Supplemental budget bills enable the state to adjust spending during times of emergency, to correct funding errors or to adjust spending when financial conditions change.
The measure approved last week invests $675 million in transportation infrastructure, using funds which became available from Congress last summer, savings from projects that cost less than expected and strong motor fuel tax revenues. Without the supplemental spending legislation, the state could not spend that money. Early passage ensures that a portion of these funds can be put to use in the FY 2013 construction season.
The funds will be used to speed construction of planned projects and invest in new projects or projects that are moving forward but lack full funding.
Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider played a key role in making sure lawmakers understood how this portion of the legislation would benefit Illinois now and in the future and promote economic growth in their districts.
Sullivan noted that the Macomb west bypass is the kind of project that could potentially benefit from this additional funding. The bypass completes the Chicago-Kansas City Expressway by connecting Ill. 336 west of Macomb with U.S. 67 north of Macomb. The northern segment continues on to Chicago, and the western segment continues south and west through Quincy and Hannibal across Missouri to Kansas City.
The current five-year transportation plan includes $70 million for bypass construction, which will enable IDOT to complete all phases of the project except paving.
Without additional funds for paving, which IDOT estimates will cost between $70 million and $80 million, motorists will not be driving on the bypass until 2018 or later and the full benefits of the huge investments already made in the C-KC and the bypass will not be realized.
In an effort to accelerate that timetable, IDOT officials have approved a plan that would open the bypass to traffic much sooner if $32.5 million in additional funds is made available. That would enable IDOT to build a two-lane bypass on four-lane right-of way by 2015 or 2016. IDOT would complete the other two lanes as more funds become available.
Unless this accelerated plan is funded, the Macomb west bypass on the Chicago Kansas City Expressway will not be completed until many years in the future.
C-KC supporters are preparing marketing campaigns to promote this new national corridor, which will be a huge economic development boost for all the cities along the 532-mile corridor through Illinois and Missouri.
Those efforts and the potential of the C-KC to generate economic growth are hampered until the bypass -- the last link in the C-KC -- is built.
The supplemental legislation also allocates $25 million saved from closing prisons to the Department of Children and Family Services, where supporters say it will save up to 1,900 jobs and enable DCFS to hire 138 child-abuse investigators. The measure also provides for $600 million in group health insurance coverage that was intentionally left out of the budget during contract negotiations, and $12 million to correct a shortfall in mental health grants resulting from a clerical error. The 90-page bill carefully identifies these and other projects, programs and services receiving funds and the source of funding.
With this legislation, lawmakers and the governor have shown leadership and acted responsibly to meet vital needs and advance the state's prospects for economic recovery and growth. We commend them for doing so.