SPRINGFIELD — As the clock ticks closer to the May 31 budget deadline, Illinois lawmakers are rushing to find the magic fiscal number with some legislators expecting final figures by next week.

By Melissa Leu

SPRINGFIELD — As the clock ticks closer to the May 31 budget deadline, Illinois lawmakers are rushing to find the magic fiscal number with some legislators expecting final figures by next week.

Budget plans in the Illinois House for higher education, public safety and general services are headed for full debate this week, while agreements on elementary and high school education and human services are close to a resolution.

“The House will have the budget done by next week,” state Rep. Luis Arroyo, D-Chicago, said.

Unlike previous years, the Illinois House has delegated a larger role for its budget committees in determining next fiscal year’s budget. The chamber set last Friday as the informal deadline to finalize detailed numbers for its estimated $33.2 billion total budget for next fiscal year.

State Rep. Kenneth Dunkin, D-Chicago, who heads the budget committee on higher education, said his group made it under the House’s higher education budget goal of $2.1 billion by targeting for-profit schools through the state’s monetary award program, or MAP.

“We had to make cuts, and the committee decided that cuts towards for-profit schools were far easier than cuts to the opposite (not-for-profit schools),” said Dunkin, who hoped the funds might be brought back on the Senate side, which is dealing with a larger $34.3 billion total budget plan.

MAP funds were reduced by $17 million, which represents the largest cut for the higher education budget, Dunkin said. The program’s grants offer financial aid to Illinois residents who attend approved state colleges and demonstrate financial need.

General services also stayed in the black, making the largest cuts to those agencies that had a record of mismanagement based on audit reports, said state Rep. Fred Crespo, D-Streamwood, who chaired the general services appropriations committee. The agencies with records of mismanagement are Department of Revenue, Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and the Department of Central Management Services.

About 15 percent was cut across the board from fiscal year 2011 from the three agencies, said Crespo, who pointed to smaller cuts for all agencies in telecommunications and contractual services.

After spending hours debating individual line items, “…we realized we (couldn’t) keep nickel-diming this thing. We need to look at fundamentally how to make big cuts to really bring down that number,” Crespo said.

General services was allotted $1.2 billion in the House budget proposal.

Arroyo, charged with divvying up $1.6 billion for the public safety budget, didn’t want to release details yet, but said about 13 agencies that use general revenue funds have been decided and will be put to a vote this week.

For elementary and high school education, state Rep. William Davis, D-East Hazel Crest, expects to keep most spending flat, with most of the cuts coming from general state aid. As a result, school districts should expect 96 percent of a fully funded budget.

School transportation was the only line item that saw increased funding, Davis said.

“We left the table with something to give the Republicans to look at. I do not know if they will or will not agree with this idea. That wasn’t decided when we parted company,” said Davis, who emphasized that the budgeting process for $6.8 billion was still ongoing.

Head of Human Services Budget Committee state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, could not be reached for comment. Because human services makes up 50 percent of the state budget, it is expected to see the most cuts in order to come in less than its allotted $12 billion.

Despite the largest portions of the state budget still up in the air, Jim Nowlan, senior political science fellow at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, called the process on target for this time of the year.

“I don’t think it’s a cause for worry. The budget will be adopted at some point,” Nowlan said. “I don’t think it’s going to develop into a problem for the operation of the state.”

Even after House numbers are finalized, the Senate and House still have to agree on a budget before sending it to the governor’s desk by May 31. Any budget measure passed after that date will require a three-fifths vote, which will require Democrats to rally Republican votes.

Democratic leadership may, however, want to push past that deadline in order to get Republicans on record, Nowlan said.

“It may be valuable to the leadership of the Democratic Party, who may be able to point to bipartisanship … in the process, but it would be a disadvantage to the liberals in the Democratic caucuses,” Nowlan said.

Although Christopher Mooney, a political science professor at the University of Illinois in Springfield, agreed with Nowlan, he also issued a caveat, calling the strategy speculation without confirmation.

“Unless you are involved and have personal impact on (the political process), the best thing you can do is ignore (reports on the budget) for now,” Mooney said. “In the long run when the thing is done, we’ll know what’s happening.”

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