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House advances capital bill; budget vote looms

Published: Thursday, May 29, 2014 11:14 p.m. CDT

SPRINGFIELD – After an exceptionally harsh winter that damaged roads and bridges across the state, the Illinois House advanced a plan to fund $1 billion in new transportation projects that could begin as early as this summer.

The chamber’s approval of Chicago Democratic Rep. Luis Arroyo’s bill by a 97-11 vote came Thursday as lawmakers finished one of their final days of the spring legislative session and worked to finalize a 2015 budget.

Arroyo’s measure would fund what Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider told a committee was a series “shovel ready” road and bridge projects across the state. Members from both sides of the aisle said the work would create jobs and improve driving conditions throughout Illinois.

“We have a responsibility to make sure we can get where we need to go,” House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs said. “Goods and services rely upon good roads.”

Still, other members spoke out against spending $1 billion on the host of projects as the state continues to struggle with sources of revenue to fund programs and services. Illinois’ temporary income tax increase is set to expire in the beginning of the new year, creating an expected loss of $1.8 billion in revenue.

“It’s irresponsible to spend this money during a difficult financial time,” Democratic state Rep. Scott Drury of Highwood said.

The capital project will be paid for by money that’s still coming in from a prior capital plan and then by paying back the loan with revenue from retired bonds.

The legislation now heads to the Senate, where it requires a three-fifth’s majority approval because it involves a bond sale.

The Senate is also considering a $35.7 billion proposed budget the House passed earlier in the week, a proposal Democratic lawmakers consider to be the best option since they were unable to muster enough votes to extend the income tax increase. But key Democrats acknowledge the plan relies on some of the same practices that got Illinois into financial trouble in the first place. That includes not allocating enough money to cover expenses, using money from special funds for day-to-day operations and banking on future increases in revenue that may or may not materialize.

The Senate is expected to vote on the 2015 budget Friday. A plan to address Cook County’s underfunded pensions could also get a vote on the House floor. The measure passed the Senate on Tuesday.

The Senate on Thursday also passed a measure that would create greater scrutiny for reviewing grants that the state gives out. The plan now heads to the House.

The Legislature also gave final approval to a plan to ask voters whether Illinois should impose an extra tax on millionaires.

The Legislature faces a Saturday deadline to adjourn.

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