Disagreements continue over how to pay for highway and school construction program

Ongoing talks are producing little progress

News Pantograph.com September 18, 2007
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State lawmakers and Gov. Rod Blagojevich agree that they want a multibillion-dollar highway and school construction program, but they don’t agree on how to pay for it.

The Senate sat down with Blagojevich to discuss a resolution Sept. 17—more than three months past their scheduled adjournment date.

After two hours behind closed doors, Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson, R-Greenville, said there wasn’t much to report.

“We haven’t got a thing yet,” Watson said. “We’ve just got a lot of talk.”

Discussion was expected to resume Sept. 18, but a survey of rank-and-file lawmakers showed there was still wide disagreement over how to pay for the program.

State Sen. James Meeks, D-Chicago, said he would never support a plan to add new casinos in the Chicago area to pay for the program.

“I’ve never voted for a gaming bill,” he said. “So I’m 100% sure I won’t be voting for it if that is the solution. I think the solution should rest in an income tax increase.”

A major Senate budget negotiator, Donne Trotter, D-Chicago, said revenue from new casinos wouldn’t help pay for the transit subsidies anyway.

Another factor possibly hindering a conclusion are ongoing disagreements between Blagojevich and House Speaker Michael Madigan, who was not a part of Monday’s meeting.

“How do you leave out the speaker of the House in this discussion?” Watson asked.

Also complicating matters is the issue of helping the financially struggling mass transit systems in Chicago.

Watson said both the construction program and the Chicago-area transit bailout should be linked.

“They have to go together,” he said.

Other funding options under consideration include a sales tax increase and ending certain business tax breaks. Both ideas have been rejected by either the governor or lawmakers.

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