Thursday, July 26, 2007

12-month budget buzz

The Senate moved a 12-month budget out of committee by an 8 to 4 vote along party lines. The budget proposes a 9 percent increase from fiscal year 2007 and relies on the creation of four additional riverboats, the closure of some corporate tax breaks, the sweep of left over money in dedicated funds and the natural revenue growth.

Some of the spending highlights include dropping $600 million into the state’s pension fund, spending $2.3 billion on school and road construction and placing $900 million in a special fund for education. The minimum amount of state aid spent per child would increase by $554, and the budget would authorize the second year of a “hospital assessment program” that would distribute federal dollars to hospitals that care for Medicaid patients.

What the budget doesn’t include is property-tax relief, funding for transit, funding for the governor’s health care initiative, stem cell research or any mechanisms to address the Medicaid spending cycle. The measure’s sponsor, Sen. Donne Trotter, said those are “stand-alone issues” that will be taken up later in separate legislation.

Senate Republicans oppose the budget because it doesn’t say how any of the money for school and road construction would be spent, leaving little assurance that any money would reach their districts. The AFSCME Council 31 union opposes the budget because it doesn’t include money to address what it calls staffing shortages in state prisons and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

The Senate did not call the bill for a vote on the floor Thursday night. They’re back in session Friday, as is the House. It’s still unknown whether they’ll be working over the weekend.

The House and the Senate approved the $1 billion electricity rate relief package. It also creates a new, independent state agency to procure power on behalf of the utilities, dismisses lawsuits brought against the utilities and power generators, requires the state to implement more energy efficiency programs and requires the state to use more renewable energy sources.
Bethany Carson contributed to this report.

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