Thursday, April 06, 2006

Stalemate on construction bonds

Put another bucket under the leaky roof. Construction projects for nearly 300 schools and for numerous state roads will have to wait, at least, a little longer.

The same day lightning struck the Illinois Senate sound system, lawmakers of the high chamber crashed a budget that would pay for schools, roads, bridges and highways. The money has been locked in political debates for three years.

Thursday’s debate, although speckled with colorful quotes, felt like it spanned years. Democrats and Republicans voted along partisan lines, which caused the measures to fall a few votes short of passing. Republicans rejected the idea for two reasons: They disagreed with borrowing more than $4 billion without defining a revenue source to repay the debt, and they feared none of the money would benefit projects in their districts. Sen. John Jones, a Mount Vernon Republican, summarized the GOP argument in one sentence: “You may trust this governor on this issue, but I don’t.”

Democrats did not identify a specific revenue source, but said increased revenue from sales taxes and gas taxes would be enough to repay most of the debt.

Democrat Senate President Emil Jones spoke directly to his Republican colleagues during committee. “If you really want a revenue stream, introduce a bill with the taxes you want to raise. We feel we do not need that at this time.”

About $1 billion of the borrowing would have gone to school construction, including $148-million’s-worth of projects in 24 districts that have been delayed for three years. The borrowing would have also designated $751 million for 275 more districts that have applied for construction money since fiscal year 2003.

The second portion of the plan – for roads, bridges, highways and higher-education construction projects – would have relied on $3.8 billion in borrowing.

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