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Quinn wants special session for roadwork, mum on extra spending

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SPRINGFIELD — Illinois lawmakers say they're happy to return to the Capitol and give Gov. Pat Quinn the approval to spend more on road, bridge and school construction, but not the $431 million he wants.

By Benjamin Yount

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois lawmakers say they're happy to return to the Capitol and give Gov. Pat Quinn the approval to spend more on road, bridge and school construction, but not the $431 million he wants.

Quinn on Monday said he will call for a special session to address Illlinois' statewide construction plan — $31 billion in new building projects approved two years ago — but he has not set a date.

"The General Assembly, the bottom line, did not pass the authorization for this construction program," Quinn said. "What we have to do is get everyone together and have them finish their business."

The governor said unless lawmakers vote for more spending, this summer's work will grind to a halt. Quinn wants some action from the Legislature before the new budget year begins July 1.

"The bottom line is the House didn't act; the Senate didn't act. When they don't act, it's time for the governor to act," Quinn said.

Lawmakers left Springfield this past week after sending Quinn a state budget. But the money for this summer's roadwork was tied to a separate measure that would have added $431 million to the trimmed-down state budget. The Illinois Senate, with the backing of only Democrats, approved the additional funding, but the plan was never called for a vote in the House.

But Quinn is going to have a tough time getting any extra money. Democrats in the Illinois House worked with their Republican counterparts and had support from the Senate GOP to hold the line on spending. The budget on Quinn's desk limits spending to $33.2 billion, and even Quinn's own Democrats are sticking to that price tag.

"I'd like to spend more too, but I think the simple fact of the matter is we may not have it," said State Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago. "And we cannot be spending more money than we have."

State Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, said he warned Senate Democrats not to add more spending, in part because no one has any idea from where the extra money would come.

"For them to tack on almost a half a billion dollars of more spending that the state doesn't have onto that capital plan, we warned what the end result would be. And here we are," said Syverson about the newly called special session.

Any agreement to spend more in the budget is going to take a super majority in the Legislature, 71 votes in the House and 36 in the Senate, according to state law. Democrats' majority in both chambers is not large enough, so lawmakers and the governor will have to come to an agreement.

Harris said that's unlikely.

"I think there are a couple of ways it could get resolved. One, the House could agree to spend more. Two, the Senate could agree to spend less," said Harris. "Or three, we could come back, maybe, in six months … and we could then adjust things six months down the road."

Syverson said that calling lawmakers back to the Capitol during the summer for "political games" is dangerous.

"If (Democrats) want to hold out for additional spending that the state doesn't have, and they want to kill the capital and road program for this year, then they have to go home and explain to their constituents and the taxpayers why they did that," said Syverson.

Several lawmakers have said roadwork will not come to a halt, because the General Assembly gave the governor an extra three months to pay late state bills, extending lapse-period spending until Dec. 31.

Quinn said a special session "has to happen now."

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