Thursday, April 02, 2009

"Trifecta" spending plan on its way - UPDATED

By Bethany Jaeger
UPDATE: The Illinois Senate unanimously approved the $9 billion package to release federal stimulus funds, state bonds for road and transit repairs and supplemental spending for state operations. Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno applauded the "true bipartisan cooperation" it took to get there. The package now heads to the House, which can either accept or reject it. It won't be able to change it.

ORIGINAL POST: The Illinois Senate this morning advanced a spending plan worth slightly more than $9 billion that is designed to jump start the flow of state and federal dollars for construction plans, state operations and federal stimulus programs.

Democrats and Republicans in a morning Senate committee applauded the plan as a “good first step” toward a bigger capital plan for road and school construction projects, but that’s tied to a string of potential and controversial funding sources, including tax and fee increases.

Before hopping on board, Republicans sought a provision to ensure that the money would flow based on an existing five-year transportation plan, not based on political preferences. Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno said during a morning committee that given the distrust between the legislative and executive branches during the last few years of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s administration, Republicans wanted assurances. This really kind of puts a public face on the private conversations that have been going on,” she said, adding that the plan was a “very good, positive step forward” for Illinois.

Senate President John Cullerton said: “We let the engineers decide, not the politicians. It has nothing to do with Blagojevich or past scores to settle. We’re just trying to do it on the square.”

For instance, $150 million would be doled out based on a traditional formula, where Chicago-area districts get 45 percent of the funding and downstate districts get 55 percent of that funding. Another sum of $450 million would be distributed based on an existing five-year plan for construction projects, which Illinois Department of Transportation engineers rank by another formula.

Labor groups represented by the AFL-CIO and some operating engineers support the plan; however, one Springfield-based chapter of the operating engineers union opposes it because the state-funded capital plan would only designate $8 million to the central Illinois district that includes Sangamon County. But Cullerton pointed out that the central Illinois district would get $54 million of federal stimulus funds.

Federal stimulus funds will distribute money for everything from weatherization to education. However, the plan advanced by the Senate today would take some money out of the portion that would have gone to public education and use it for state operating expenses. Then the state would use incoming federal stimulus funds to eventually backfill the amount for education. According to Sen. Donne Trotter, chief budget negotiator for the Senate Democrats, education, in the end, would come out about even. That is, after all, the intent of the federal stimulus, he said.

“The stimulus package was never intended for us to grow anything. It was to ensure that we didn’t have to cut anything, and that’s what we’re utilizing those dollars for.”

The full package now heads to the full Senate, where a vote is expected this afternoon. If approved, it would head to the House later today or tomorrow.

Here are some more highlights of the “trifecta,” dubbed by Trotter:

Federal stimulus funds = $6.7 billion
  • $1.7 billion to pay down the state’s Medicaid bills, including an enhanced federal reimbursement rate of about 61 percent for 27 months.
  • $500 million for high-speed rail.
  • $300 million for a Chicago-area project to reduce freight and vehicular traffic congestion.
  • $285 for Amtrak improvements.
  • $40 million for transit.
Other funds are earmarked for low-income housing, developmental disability and mental health services, programs for women and children, youth services, criminal justice and domestic violence grants, weatherization jobs and training, environmental protection, water treatment and education.

Read more in Illinois Issues this month.

$3 billion state bonding program for transportation projects
  • $2 billion bonded from the dedicated Road Fund to repair roads and bridges.
  • $1 billion bonded from the state’s general fund for transit maintenance projects.
  • $150 million for emergency pothole repair on state and local roads.
  • $40 million for Chicago-area transportation agencies to release funds that previously were suspended under a previous capital program.

Supplemental spending for FY09 operating budget = $109 million
  • $363 million to reopen closed historic sites through June 30.
  • $25 million for services for women and children, capturing more federal matching funds.
  • $20 million for flood relief.
  • $10 million for line-of-duty awards.
  • $6.7 million for court reporters.

No comments: