Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Closer ... but ...

There’s likely an agreement on the governor’s college tuition tax credit, but there’s no telling whether a slew of pet projects will prevent the overall budget from being ready next week.

The three top Democratic leaders finished their third consecutive week of budget negotiations. This afternoon, Sen. President Emil Jones gave promising comments about getting closer, but how close, he said, depends on whom you’re talking to. “There’s a few minor issues that we’re trying to get taken care of.”

One item that he said has been settled is a version of the governor’s tax credit for college students. The original $90-million idea was to give $1,000 tax credits to families of college freshmen and sophomores who earn at least a “B” average. Jones said the plan would be a “hybrid” of tax credits and state grants, but details about the income eligibility will be announced “at the right time.”

He did say adjourning next week is possible. Budget staffers will continue to meet, but the House won't be back until 4 p.m. Monday. The Senate won't get back to business until Tuesday.

The anything-can-happen attitude was echoed by House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie. Her promising sentence was capped off with a “but” and a courtesy smile that hinted she wouldn’t bet her money on it.

“The question is whether all the members are satisfied, and you never can tell,” she said. “Usually what happens is, you think everything’s all set, signed, sealed and delivered, and then there’s some kind of blowup that no one anticipated. I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened, and that’s why I’m not making any prediction that we’re out of here on Thursday.”

Republican Rep. David Reis pointed out the closer session gets to the Constitutional deadline of May 31, the more likely budget negotiators are to tighten their belts. He predicted a longer session would cause House Speaker Michael Madigan to apply pressure for Democrats to whittle down their wish lists. Otherwise, if May 31 comes and the budget needs a three-fifths majority to pass, they won’t get all their pet projects.

“He’s playing politics. We’re playing out the clock,” the Republican said.

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