Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Legislators likely won't be back for long

By Jamey Dunn

As lawmakers return to the Statehouse tomorrow, approving funding for capital construction is the top priority but not the only issue up for consideration.

“The No. 1 thing that we have to do on Wednesday is make sure our building program in Illinois continues,” Gov. Pat Quinn told reporters this week.

Fiscal Year 2012 funding for the state’s capital construction plan became a bargaining chip after Senate Democrats attached about $430 million in spending to the bill in the closing days of the regular spring session in an attempt to push the House to tack more funding onto its approved budget. Once Senate Democrats realized they stood alone — after Quinn sided with Republicans in calling for a 12-month “clean” capital bill with no added appropriations — Senate President John Cullerton backed away from the added spending last week.

“We laid out what the realities are. We have to continue to build and construct important buildings and roads and bridges and water systems and rail systems in Illinois. … We can’t have any delays, and I think all the members of the legislature agree with that,” Quinn said at a Chicago news conference. “I look forward to being there on Wednesday in Springfield, and we’ll get the final reauthorization of this public works plan that puts people to work.”

Cullerton warned that the budget has “structural deficiencies” that will become evident as the fiscal year, which begins July 1, unfolds. Quinn said that while lawmakers are back in session, they will review budget options that could be revisited in the fall veto session. But after calling for about $1 billion more in spending than the House’s budget plan, Quinn now says that spending cannot exceed the chamber’s self-imposed cap. “I think that the amount of money, $33.2 billion, which [is] lot of money, that’s the limit. That’s all that the budget’s going to permit in this fiscal year. What we can do within that limit though, is make sure that we invest in education and health care, public safety, these are the core priorities.”

However,  he has not said that he will sign off on the approved budget plan itself. He said that shifts in the budget might be needed to direct money toward priorities such as early childhood education and violence prevention programs.Quinn said he could use his line item or reduction veto to alter the budge,t but he would need the backing of three-fifths of the legislature to approve increased funding in any area. He added that any potential spending must be “within the limit.”
Quinn says all four legislative leaders have agreed to put votes on the construction spending tomorrow. Leadership in both chambers tentatively plan to hold session for one day. “We are confident that a capital bill will pass both chambers that will allow our state to continue with the historic construction bill we passed a couple of years ago. This action, with the governor’s signature, will keep tens of thousands of people working and at the same time improving our infrastructure,” Sara Wojcicki, spokesperson for House Minority Leader Tom Cross, said in a prepared statement.

“The capital bill’s the big issue [for Wednesday,]” said John Patterson, a spokesperson for Cullerton. Patterson said the Senate also plans to vote on a plan to forgo cost-of-living wage increases for legislators, as well continuing a previous reduction in the per diem costs they are paid for session days and travel costs. The House has already approved the bill, which also calls for lawmakers to take 12 furlough days next fiscal year.
The Senate Executive Appointments Committee is scheduled to meet tomorrow morning, and Quinn’s choice to chair the Illinois State Board of Education, Gary Chico, former head of Chicago Public Schools, is on the docket. Former Canton Democratic Rep. Michael Smith’s appointment to the Educational Labor Relations Board is also on the schedule.

Patterson said Senate Democrats would discuss Senate Bill 1556, which the House approved on the last day of regular scheduled session in May. The measure would bar state workers who primarily handle policy decisions or work as managers from joining a union.

Quinn’s administration is backing the controversial bill— a version of which passed in the House in January. The Senate did not vote on the legislation. “Our state has more [workers] belonging to a union than any other state in the union. I believe in the right to collectively bargain, but you also have to have some people in management,” Quinn said.


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