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House to consider funding for roads, child welfare money

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

SPRINGFIELD (AP) – The Illinois House is poised to consider more money for state programs in a plan that takes advantage of new road building funds and shifts money saved from prison closures to child welfare services, sparing up to 1,900 jobs.

The Executive Committee voted 9-2 Monday afternoon to move the plan to the House floor. It includes a $675 million boost to transit construction highly prized by businesses and labor unions and $25 million saved from a bitter fight over closing correctional facilities to put nearly 140 more child-abuse investigators on the street.

The legislation is part of an annual exercise aimed at shoring up parts of state government that are running short of money halfway through the fiscal year.

The bill also includes $12 million for community mental health grants, $25 million for rental housing assistance, $5.7 million for job-training programs, and $5 million as the final portion of a $70 million veterans’ home to be built in Chicago. It also includes lawmakers’ OK for agencies to spend federal money, such as the $35 million early childhood instruction grant that the Illinois State Board of Education won.

House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, who presented the plan to the committee, said a separate piece of legislation will seek to allocate more than $600 million for the second half of the year for state employee group health insurance.

The money had been set aside but not appropriated because Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration hoped there would be a new contract agreement with employees that would trim health insurance costs. But the governor and the largest workers’ union remain deadlocked on a pact to replace the one that expired June 30.

The so-called supplemental appropriation – including the infusion of road money and the transfer of child protection funds – failed after political bickering in the Senate during the final days of the last legislative session in early January. A committee controlled by Democrats voted it down when senators objected to funding going to or being withheld from areas such as public schools or horse racing.

That made businesses and organized labor nervous. The Transportation for Illinois Coalition turned up the pressure last week, saying the Legislature needed to move quickly to get the trucks moving this spring – the season begins as early as next month when project bids are solicited for the first time.

The money includes a $175 million infusion of federal money after Congress adopted a new national transit strategy last summer. There’s $225 million of state money available this year from healthy motor-fuel tax revenues and leftovers from previous projects that cost less than expected.

Because of the additional revenue and other favorable conditions, the Department of Transportation, which plans improvements in five-year increments, also plans to move up $275 million in work scheduled for the final four years and break ground this spring, Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider said.

The Department of Children and Family Services would avoid as many as 1,900 layoffs with its $25 million boost, spokesman Dave Clarkin said. Middle management positions have been eliminated and the agency has moved staffers into “front line” positions.

Those positions include 138 investigators who knock on doors in response to abuse complaints, staff members to recruit foster parents because of shortages, and other employees to focus on moving foster kids back into homes with their birth families.

Currie said legislative appropriations leaders identified more than $58 million in general revenue that had been appropriated last spring but which won’t be spent. The measure she floated Monday calls for $54 million of that, so it’s possible lawmakers will identify other needs that the balance can cover. Tens of millions of dollars in other spending comes from sources outside the general checking account but need legislative authority before checks are cut.

Rep. Ed Sullivan, a Mundelein Republican, grilled a Quinn staff member over appropriations of more than $1 million for what appeared to be salaries for high-level agency administrators, such as assistant directors in cabinet-level agencies. Sullivan maintained that lawmakers told Quinn they did not want people in these posts, particularly when the state is $9 billion behind on paying bills to vendors.

But Ben Winick of Quinn’s Office of Management and Budget said some of the positions were already occupied but weren’t previously funded, others remain vacant, but that all are “important for the operations of state government.”

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The bill is HB190.

Online: http://www.ilga.gov

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Contact John O’Connor at https://www.twitter.com/apoconnor

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