Editors: Corrects first name of James Clayborne in fourth from the last paragraph
By DOUG FINKE
STATE CAPITOL BUREAU
SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois House Democrats issued a budget plan of their own Wednesday that gives a significant funding increase to education, but keeps spending on most other state services flat.
The House was expected to vote late Wednesday on the plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Midnight today is the spring session’s adjournment deadline, meaning that if a budget isn’t passed by then, Republican votes would be needed in the House.
The Democrats’ proposal increases state spending by about $800 million, paid for with natural revenue growth from economic expansion and about $300 million from ending some tax breaks now enjoyed by business.
The proposed $400 million increase for education, though, is far less than the $1.5 billion requested by Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
The House Democrats’ budget also does not include any money to start Blagojevich’s universal health-care plan, something he has labeled a top priority this spring. And it does not fund pay raises required by state employee union contracts.
“There’s no guarantee it’s going to pass,” said Rep. Monique Davis, D-Chicago. “Some people are very disturbed because there are a lot of things that are not in it.”
The plan was debated by House Democrats behind closed doors for nearly three hours Wednesday. Few of them believe it is the final word on the stalled budget talks this spring.
“My anticipation is that it (the budget) will pass and we’ll send it over to the Senate, and that’s where it will sit and we will go into overtime,” said Rep. Marlow Colvin, D-Chicago, leader of the House Black Caucus.
Some Democrats view the budget plan unveiled Wednesday as an initial offering from House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, as part of the ongoing negotiations. Others see it as a stop-gap measure to keep state government going if the General Assembly runs into a lengthy overtime session.
“I think putting it in the hands of the Senate Democrats, if we need to have a continuing appropriation so things don’t shut down, I think it’s a decent start,” said Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley.
However, the plan spends far less than Blagojevich’s budget proposal, which was based on raising business taxes by more than $8 billion. Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, also favors a more expansive spending program.
Blagojevich’s office provided no response to the House Democrats’ budget Wednesday evening.
House Republican Leader Tom Cross of Oswego wants less spending than either Blagojevich or Jones, but he objected to the House Democrat plan because it is built on ending $300 million worth of business tax breaks.
“We have said from day one we can balance this budget without raising taxes, and their budget requires a $300 million tax increase right at business,” Cross said. “It’s not something that I see any (Republicans) supporting.”
The half-dozen business tax breaks targeted are mostly highly technical and dealing with things like computing deductions and how multi-state businesses allocate income for tax purposes. The Democrats steered away from some politically sensitive tax breaks such as the sales tax exemption for farm equipment and breaks on computer software purchases.
“We chose the ones where we thought we could make the strongest argument that these are not about economic development and job creation,” said Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago. “One person’s loophole may be another’s effort to bring jobs and economic development to the state of Illinois. I think these are pretty clearly loopholes and ought to be closed.”
The House approved the tax package on a 63-53 vote Wednesday night, with little Republican support.
“It seems like a modest increase, but this is a major tax increase,” said Rep. Dave Winters, R-Shirland. “It’s another signal … that Illinois is not looking for your business.”
A Senate committee, meanwhile, approved a revised gambling bill that establishes a land-based casino in Chicago operated by an authority appointed by the mayor, governor and lawmakers.
The bill also would establish new casinos in Lake County, the south Chicago suburbs and near O’Hare International Airport; allow existing casinos to add thousands of gaming positions; let the state to authorize Internet wagering on horse races at Illinois tracks; and permit electronic poker wagering between casinos.
Sen. James Clayborne, D-Belleville, said the package could produce $2.1 billion for the state the first year and more than $1 billion in revenue annually after that. About $350 million would be set aside to pay for a construction bond program for schools and road projects.
The plan also will split about $57 million a year among the state’s public universities.
Republicans objected that Chicago State University, a pet facility of Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, is earmarked to get $14 million of that. But Sen. Rickey Hendon, D-Chicago, said the disproportionate amount is to make up for the school being slighted in previous years.
The gambling-expansion bill has yet to be approved by the full Senate. Even if it is, it may go nowhere in the House. Madigan does not have enough Democratic votes to pass a gaming bill that adds casinos without Republican help, and Cross has said Republicans will not support such a bill.
Adriana Colindres, Laura Camper and Jeremy Pelzer of the State Capitol Bureau contributed to this report. Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.