Ill. Senate not returning to work on long agenda

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill.–State senators aren’t coming back to work until November to consider a long list of high-profile issues, including a statewide construction program and deep budget cuts, a Senate aide said Thursday.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill.–State senators aren’t coming back to work until November to consider a long list of high-profile issues, including a statewide construction program and deep budget cuts, a Senate aide said Thursday. The delay also affects "pay to play" legislation regulating political money, perhaps even killing the measure for technical reasons. The decision not to return sooner defies the many groups urging the Senate to act quickly on reversing budget cuts that eliminate state jobs, cut services to people with disabilities and drug problems, and shut down state parks and historic sites. "Parks, child protection and assistance to needy families are all at risk unless the Senate passes these bills," said Henry Bayer, executive director of the Illinois division of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The House took action on all the matters Wednesday, raising hopes that the Senate would follow suit. But Cindy Davidsmeyer, spokeswoman for Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, said senators won’t be asked to return early. Instead, they’ll next meet on Nov. 12 as scheduled. Until then, Senate leaders will review the House’s plan to pay for a state construction program by leasing the Illinois lottery to a private contractor, Davidsmeyer said. Supporters hope privatizing the lottery will generate at least $10 billion that would fund repairs to decaying roads and bridges. Even if the lottery plan was approved, lawmakers and Gov. Rod Blagojevich are still far from an agreement over what construction projects to endorse and how to ensure the governor can’t play political tricks with the money. Blagojevich’s office did not immediately respond to questions about the Senate’s decision. The House also voted to override the governor’s amendatory veto of legislation restricting political donations by people doing business with the state. The goal is to fight the perception that officials award contracts only to their political supporters. The state constitution says that after the House override vote, the Senate has 15 days to take action or the measure dies. That would suggest the ethics bill will be a dead issue by the time senators return in November. But Davidsmeyer argued the 15-day clock does not start ticking until the Senate reconvenes and officially accepts the notification that the House has voted to override the veto. The Senate sponsor of the ethics measure, Democrat Don Harmon of Oak Park, said he agrees with that argument. "That is the sensible interpretation, in my view," he said, predicting the Senate will vote to override the governor’s veto. But Patty Schuh, spokeswoman for Senate Republican Leader Frank Watson, said the delay "could jeopardize a tough law that we need on the books." The House also voted to restore nearly $600 million in spending that Blagojevich cut from the budget. The budget cuts are forcing layoffs and closings at many parks and historic sites, including several related to Abraham Lincoln, in October and November. In addition, the state is eliminating hundreds of jobs at the Departments of Human Services and Children and Family Services. Private social service agencies that depend on state funding are also slashing services. The House didn’t come up with money to cover all the additional spending it wants to restore, but Schuh said the Senate should look at the legislation. "At least consider what the House sent," she said. "There are people that will lose their jobs." AP ______ Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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