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Illinois officials miss another deadline in budget stalemate

Thursday, August 9, 2007

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Illinois officials missed the latest in a string of deadlines Wednesday in their battle over a new budget, and this time it threatens thousands of state employees and schools across Illinois.

Without a budget, the state comptroller won't begin processing paychecks due to nearly 5,000 employees next week and $170 million in school aid payments scheduled to be mailed Friday.

The General Assembly began preparing to vote today on a budget proposal, but the details were still being put in place and it wasn't clear whether the plan would meet Gov. Rod Blagojevich's conditions to be signed into law.

Lawmakers described a budget that would increase general spending by $2.1 billion, or 8.2 percent. Education would get an increase of nearly $600 million, or about 9 percent, which may be the largest in Illinois history.

Proposals to spend more on health care and construction projects will be considered separately, but officials weren't sure when that would happen.

Even if the entire budget were wrapped up Thursday, it would be a record 69 days overdue thanks to bitter disagreements among state leaders, particularly Democrats.

"I guess it was just too much common sense to think the leaders could actually sit down and have a normal conversation about what we want the Democratic legacy to be from this legislative session," said Rep. Joe Lyons, D-Chicago. "They blew it."

Watching a key date come and go is nothing new for the officials groping for an agreement. They originally aimed to pass a budget by May 31. Then came the end of the fiscal year on June 30, followed by the expiration of a budget extension on July 31.

But those deadlines were largely technical, with little impact beyond ruining summer for some state officials and their families. Missing Wednesday's deadline to begin writing checks could have real-world consequences, however.

Blagojevich urged Comptroller Daniel Hynes to begin processing the paychecks even without a budget in place, but Hynes said he does not have the legal authority to do that.

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