Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Mass transit special session

Lawmakers will return to Springfield November 28 to focus on mass transit as required by Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s proclamation of another special session Monday, but Republican leaders aren’t happy about it.

Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson said Monday afternoon, “I have no idea what this is about.” Watson said that the effort has been focused on a compromise plan to fund road and school construction projects, which some downstate lawmakers said is necessary for them to support a Chicago-area mass transit deal. “For [the governor] to call a special session dealing with mass transit and mass transit only is a troubling sign — because my attitude is we’re not going to deal with just mass transit. Capital has to be a part of this,” Watson said. “And I’m disappointed that if he’s going to call a special session, let’s deal with the whole package instead of just one or the other.”

According to House Minority Leader Tom Cross, he, Watson and House Speaker Michael Madigan were already scheduled to meet in Springfield two days next week. “We’ve got a lot of work to do on capital bill, but we’re slowly but surely I think moving forward,” Cross said.

The governor said in his letter to the General Assembly that he supports legislation that would “redirect revenue” from the Chicago-area sales tax on gasoline to the Regional Transportation Authority. “It does not raise taxes. It redirects them,” Blagojevich wrote. He added that the gas tax revenue would be replaced by “closing corporate loopholes,” or ending certain corporate tax credits.

Watson said he opposes that idea, saying such neighboring states as Indiana already benefit from Illinois’ tax policy. “These kinds of loopholes he talks about closing aren’t tax loopholes — these are incentives in many cases.”

The governor’s letter suggests there’s room for negotiation, but that’s unlikely given his opposition to the plan backed by Madigan. Blagojevich wrote, “I am open to other ideas so long as it is not another t ax increase on people.” That still rules out the proposal sponsored by Democratic Rep. Julie Hamos of Evanston that narrowly failed over the summer and that would have raised Chicago-area sales taxes and real estate transfer taxes to aid mass transit.

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