Wednesday, May 03, 2006

House passes budget

Rep. Edward Acevedo pushed the “yes” button along with every the other House Democrat to pass next year’s budget – without their Republican counterparts. Last night, Acevedo said a lot could change and needed to change before 8 a.m. for him to support the budget. Apparently, that happened. The Chicago Democrat said he and the Latino Caucus met with the governor's office late Tuesday night to ensure the budget contained money for community-based programs, such as the Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. He said the programs made the cut, allowing him to vote "yes" and send the budget to the Senate.

Here's a recap of some programs that would benefit from about $55 billion in spending:
- Education: universal preschool, college tuition grants, and nurses' scholarships
- Corrections: more prison guards, methamphetamine addiction treatment centers and state police cars
- Health care: veterans' and children's health insurance, and some (emphasize some) Medicaid bill relief
- Environment: water conservation and renewable fuels
- Other: telecommunications (see "The new digital divide" in Illinois Issues May issue) and minority jobs

The state will partially pay for the programs by banking on higher-than-expected tax revenues, sweeping hundreds of dedicated funds, taxing some more businesses, phasing out some tax credits and programs, reducing state employee headcount and attracting more federal matching dollars.

The four-hour-plus “debate” allowed Republicans to object to and question numerous parts of the budget, which they said will result in the following:
- A more than $1 billion shortfall in the amount the state should pay into public pension systems
- A nearly $2 billion backlog of Medicaid payments
- More than $1 billion increase in spending. Of that spending, they calculated $800 million would be dedicated to “mysterious” pork projects and $1.6 billion obligated to pay debt.

To point out the budget’s shortsightedness, House Minority Leader Tom Cross of Oswego cited Illinois’ poor financial rating. He also said the pork-laden budget spelled out that this is election year. Rep. Dave Winters, a Shirland Republican, called the budget shameless and “a champagne and caviar budget.” Republicans repeatedly said they had not been invited to any budget negotiations since February, shedding themselves of any blame for obstructing the process.

Rep. Gary Hannig, the chief Democrat budget negotiator, closed the debate by acknowledging two criticisms: “You're spending a whole lot of money that you don't have … Then you're not spending enough on schools, prisons and social services.” He said because arguments fall on both sides, the budget negotiators succeeded in striking a compromise. “We found just that level of funding that actually makes this budget work.”

Update: The Senate is expected to vote on the budget Thursday. Stay tuned.

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