Illinois House approves spending plan

Friday, May 31, 2002

Associated Press WriterSPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) -- The Illinois House approved a state spending plan Friday that would add about $275 million to the Spartan budget proposed by Gov. George Ryan.

But legislative leaders still appeared to be far apart on how to come up with the money.

The budget bill would provide money to keep operating several state facilities that Ryan proposed closing: a Peoria mental health center, a Lincoln home for the developmentally disabled, a St. Charles juvenile prison and the Sheridan prison.

It also would reverse some of the service cuts Ryan suggested, such as reducing college scholarships, and services for the mentally ill and developmentally disabled. House Minority Leader Lee Daniels, R-Elmhurst, put the total cost at about $275 million.

The spending measure passed 92-22 and now moves to the Republican-controlled Senate.

Lawmakers called it the best compromise that could be worked out in a year when state revenues have plummeted. "This is about as close to reality as we can get," said Rep. Gerald Mitchell, R-Sterling.

Senate President James "Pate" Philip, R-Wood Dale, said it was possible an agreement on a complete budget package could be approved Friday.

Midnight Friday was a key deadline. After that, passing a budget would require a three-fifths vote rather than a simple majority. Finding that much support could take a long time and require added spending to placate lawmakers.

But the revenue-raising options Philip described were significantly different from those outlined by other leaders.

Ryan and legislative leaders have spent weeks negotiating over how to close the state's $1.35 billion deficit and produce a balanced $53 billion budget for the fiscal year starting July 1.

Ryan has proposed deep spending reductions, including cutting 6,500 state jobs and scrimping on social services, along with several tax increases. Finding a balance acceptable to a majority of lawmakers in an election year has proven nearly impossible.

Everyone now seems to agree it will require raising taxes on cigarettes and riverboat casinos, as well as blocking a tax break for businesses.

Ryan's idea of tripling the tax on real estate transfers, which would yield $120 million, has failed to win any support.

Philip said cigarette taxes probably would climb around 40 cents a pack, to a total of 98 cents. That would generate about $230 million a year for the state.

He said casinos could see higher taxes both on their revenues and their admissions. As of Thursday night, officials were discussing a total increase of $130 million from casino taxes.

Philip said the idea of bringing in more money by letting casino gambling expand was still being considered, although House Republicans firmly reject that.

He also rejected something the House Republicans support: taking an immediate cash payment in exchange for giving up some future revenue from a tobacco lawsuit settlement.

Senate Democrats also back the idea, and a spokesman said House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, is willing to go along.

"I don't think that's going to be in it. It just doesn't work," Philip said.

If lawmakers end up approving more spending without providing the necessary money, Ryan may be forced to use his veto powers to trim the budget.

He could go back to his earlier proposal to close prisons and mental facilities. Lawmakers up for election this fall would be able to argue that they opposed the closures but could not prevent the governor's actions.

Another way to make up the difference would be to spend some of the $851 million the governor needed to pay end-of-year bills. That would push some of fiscal 2003's financial problems into the next budget year.

------The bill is SB2393. On the Net:

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