The House on Thursday night nearly unanimously approved the $9 billion plan for federal stimulus funds, transportation projects and supplemental spending for state operations. The Senate approved the package earlier in the day. The spending plans now head to Gov. Pat Quinn’s desk, satisfying the governor’s request for the General Assembly to approve a small version of a capital plan for roads and bridges before lawmakers left on a two-week spring break.
House Republicans early in the day weren’t on board because it wasn’t clear how the money would be spent, said House Minority Leader Tom Cross. However, working with Quinn’s office throughout the day, he said his caucus finally got a list. “The governor was very helpful, both himself personally and his staff, in trying to make this happen,” he said.
“Today’s actions are a great example of what we can accomplish when we come together with a common purpose,” Quinn said in a statement.
Senate President John Cullerton, however, foreshadowed the difficulty in securing the three-fifths majority needed to do a larger capital program based on tax and fee increases later.
Cigarette tax advances
By Jamey Dunn
A timely example of that difficulty in advancing any tax increase occurred early in the evening. After missing the mark by one vote the first time, a $1 sales tax increase on each pack of cigarettes advanced through the Senate Thursday when a second vote was taken.
Senate Bill 44, which would phase the tax increase in over two years, had 29 in favor, 28 opposed and one voting present. It took a last-minute, closed-door meeting between Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan before the vote was retaken, resulting in the 30 votes needed to pass. Twenty-six members still voted against it.
Cullerton said that the bill has support from Madigan and Gov. Pat Quinn, but he added that the close vote indicates a difficult road ahead for future tax increases. “This was the first bill that required people to actually vote for a tax,” he said. “And you can see it’s not easy for people to do that. Unfortunately, we’re probably going to have to do a lot more.”
The bill heads to the House, which will reconvene Friday morning. The Senate finished its business and headed home for spring break.