Quinn threatens to shut down road projects over budget impasse
BY LISA DONOVAN AND DAVE MCKINNEY Staff Reporters June 15, 2011 6:24PM
Illinois Senate President John Cullerton heads to Gov. Pat Quinn's office for a meeting about the state's fiscal situation Wednesday, June 15, 2011, at the Thompson Center in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times
Updated: October 16, 2011 12:17AM
Road projects across Illinois could begin shutting down on Monday if state lawmakers can’t get beyond an impasse over a capital spending plan.
Gov. Quinn met with top legislative leaders in his downtown Chicago office Wednesday, but after more than an hour behind closed doors the governor still has his foot over the brake on millions of dollars in road projects if some kind of agreement can’t be reached by a Friday deadline he’s imposed.
“If there is an agreement on Friday then we’re able to withhold the shutdown. But if there’s not an agreement on Friday, there is no option but to begin a shutdown after the 17th,” said Mica Matsoff, a spokeswoman for the governor.
Without a capital budget approved by the lllinois Legislature, Quinn has said he has no authority to spend money beyond this month, the end of the fiscal year — an assertion challenged by some lawmakers.
If top lawmakers, who are planning to meet with their various caucuses, phone Quinn by Friday and let him know that an agreement has been reached, a special session will be convened next Wednesday and lawmakers can take a vote.
The Illinois Legislature finished the spring session days ago, but remained in a standoff over the $22 billion construction bill. At issue was a disagreement between the House and the Senate over tacking on to the legislation $430 million in education and social services spending.
On Wednesday Quinn met with the legislative leadership, Illinois Senate President John Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan, both Democrats as well as House Minority Leader Tom Cross Minority Leader Christine Radogno, Republicans. The governor told them he wants a simple, 12-month capital funding bill approved — with no financial strings attached.
“In his meeting with the legislative leaders, the governor was clear [in] his push for a 12-month capital budget with no conditions,” Matsoff said. “He also said that the leaders should come back in the fall when they could have discussions about reallocating some elements of the budget based on the Senate Democrats’ priorities — staying within the $33.2 billion” budget.
While the Republicans were willing to talk publicly after Wednesday’s meeting, none of the Democrats, save for Quinn’s spokeswoman, would take reporter’s questions.
“It is just not reasonable to suspend the capital projects for half a billion dollars in unrelated spending,” Radogno said. “The capital bill needs to go forward,” she said noting that the state could lose federal money tied to the projects, not to mention the extra money that would be spent to suspend and restart projects.
Cross says lawmakers are now on the fast-track to reach an agreement to keep the projects, which provide some 52,000 jobs, alive. He’s hesitantly setting aside his reservations about the governor’s claim that he can’t authorize spending beyond the end of the month to keep the projects running.
“The governor has a lot of authority in this arena and he’s taken the position he doesn’t have the authority, and I’ll take him at his word,” Cross said.
Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Gary Hannig left the governor’s office confirming only that the projects would begin shutting down Monday.
Matsoff explained: “It’s a public safety issue if you don’t begin to shut down [now} — especially before a busy Fourth of July holiday.”