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Illinois Legislature set to approve 2015 budget

Published: Friday, May 30, 2014 2:54 p.m. CDT

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — The Illinois Legislature is expected to send a new state budget to Gov. Pat Quinn Friday that majority Democrats acknowledge puts off tough decisions about whether to slash spending or find new sources of revenue — including possibly making Illinois' temporary tax increase permanent — until after the November election.

The Senate is set to give final approval to the approximately $35.7 billion 2015 spending plan, which the House passed earlier in the week. The vote comes as the Legislature faces a Saturday deadline to adjourn.

Quinn and other Democratic leaders had wanted lawmakers to extend Illinois' temporary income tax increase, which is set to roll back in January. But House Democrats — all of whom face re-election in November — couldn't get enough "yes" votes to do so.

Instead, legislative leaders drafted a budget that relies on many of the same practices that have been criticized for causing Illinois' troubled financial situation. They include relying on future increases in revenue that may or may not be realized, borrowing money from special funds to pay for day-to-day operations and adding to Illinois' roughly $4.7 billion backlog of unpaid bills.

The proposed budget keeps funding levels flat next year for schools and most state agencies. But it doesn't account for increased costs. That means if new revenue isn't found before the end of the fiscal year, thousands of state workers could be laid off, programs could be cut and facilities closed.

"While this budget is decisive, it is not complete. It is incomplete," state Sen. Dan Kotowski said, describing a spending plan that'll allow Illinois to "live within its means."

But he warned of tough future decisions, including the anticipated drop in revenues.

"We'll need to have options on the table to fill this hole, to either fill this hole or wreak havoc," he told colleagues at the opening of the budget debate in the Senate.

Senate Republicans warned the Legislature was headed toward a repeat of 2011. That's when Democrats returned to Springfield after the fall election and voted to increase Illinois' income tax by 67 percent with the help of so-called "lame duck" legislators who were finishing out their term after not being re-elected.

"We've seen this playbook before," said Sen. Christine Radogno of Lemont, the Senate GOP leader. "I have no doubt that they're willing to do this again."

Republicans called on Democrats, including Quinn, to sign on to a pledge not to pass the tax increase extension after the November election.

The temporary tax increase raised the rate for individuals from 3 percent to 5 percent. It is set to drop to 3.75 percent on Jan. 1 — a decrease Radogno said would put about a week's salary back into the pocket of the typical Illinois family.

The Senate also was set to consider a $1 billion capital construction program that would provide money for roads and bridges. The measure passed the House Thursday with bipartisan support from lawmakers who said the money was particularly needed because the exceptionally harsh winter damaged Illinois roads and bridges.

The capital projects will be paid for with money that's still coming in to cover a prior capital plan. Some of those bonds have been paid off.

Associated Press writer Sophia Tareen contributed.

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