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Posted: Sunday, April 16, 2000 12:00 am

SPRINGFIELD -- The Illinois General Assembly wrapped up its spring session Saturday night after endorsing a $48 billion budget and $350 million in tax relief.

The budget, approved by both chambers of the General Assembly, was based on a compromise hammered out by Gov. George Ryan and legislative leaders in a series of private meetings during the past few weeks.

The budget next goes to Gov. Ryan for his signature.

Although the legislature adjourned a day later than planned, it is still the earliest adjournment in recent history.

During this election year, many lawmakers are pointing to tax cuts and assistance for low-income elderly to buy medicine as the crowning achievements of the session.

The measures approved by the legislature would:

-- Offer tax relief for homeowners through a one-time rebate equal to the income-tax credit they claim for property taxes. The rebate is capped at $300.

-- Include a state version of the federal earned-income tax credit, targeted toward the working poor. Illinois' credit will be 5 percent of the federal credit.

-- Expand the Circuit Breaker program, which helps low-income senior citizens buy medicine.

An elderly couple can earn no more than $16,000 now to be eligible for the program. The proposal would expand the eligibility threshold to include those older couples earning $28,100 per year or less.

The plan also expands the types of medicines that can be purchased with the assistance, adding treatments for Alzheimer's disease, glaucoma, cancer and Parkinson's disease and other illnesses.

The legislation was so popular among lawmakers that every House member asked to be added as a co-sponsor of the bill.

Rep. Mike Boland, D-East Moline, called the measure a step in the right direction, but he added it doesn't go as far as he would like.

``I think this shouldn't be for just for senior citizens. We should pay for pharmaceuticals for people in need of all ages,'' he said. ``Sure it would be expensive. But right now we are rolling in dough. We should consider spending the money that way.''

Sen. Denny Jacobs, D-East Moline, said he would like to have the state reach a broader number of people with its tax cuts.

``Right now, these property-tax rebates will only reach, maybe, 42 percent of the people in Illinois. Many people rent. We need to give a broader tax cut -- like reducing the income-tax rate for everyone,'' he said.

Much of the tax relief would be paid for with part of the money Illinois has collected from the settlement of a national tobacco lawsuit. Even more of the tobacco money, $435 million, will be dedicated to health programs.

Some lawmakers had originally opposed using any of the tobacco money, because they feared future legal problems could make it an unreliable source of income. But this budget plan addresses those concerns by allocating the money for one-time costs, such as the rebate to homeowners.

Reaching a budget agreement was easier this year than in past sessions, Rep. Joel Brunsvold, D-Milan, said.

``Everyone is taken care of in this budget,'' he said. ``I don't know anyone who hasn't gotten their issue solved this year. It's easy to make a budget when you have enough money to take care of everyone's needs. It's a lot more difficult when you don't have enough money.''

Rep. Brunsvold said he was particularly disappointed legislators didn't act to eliminate the sales tax on gasoline, a move that could have dropped the price by 9 cents per gallon.

``I was not happy that it was not in the tax relief,'' he said. ``I thought that would have been excellent. Every time a person went to a pump to fill up with gasoline, they would have gotten something back in their hand.''

The only major deviation from the original budget hammered out by Gov. Ryan and legislative leaders is that it does not include a new subsidy for private schools.

House speaker Mike Madigan, D-Chicago, had pushed a measure aimed primarily at bailing out the cash-strapped Catholic schools in Chicago. The $80 million plan would have given every school in the state $38 for each student enrolled. This would have meant $12 million for private schools.

Rep. Madigan capitulated on the issue Friday, after it became clear there were not enough supporters in the House to push the measure through. Reportedly, a majority of representatives from outside the Chicago area opposed private-school funding. Teachers unions also worked hard to block the proposal.

Public schools still will receive the per-student grant.

The budget will also increase the day-care subsidy allocation for low-income parents by $150 million, to a proposed level of $652 million.

Sen. Pat Welch, D-Peru, called this trend encouraging.

``I'm happy to see this budget is stressing more social programs. Last year, we concentrated on more infrastructure improvements,'' he said.

Gov. Ryan said he, too, is happy with the session.

``We accomplished a lot of things in this session in a short period of time,'' he told reporters Saturday night. ``And it was done basically because we had a lot of cooperation. We put together programs that ended up in tax relief, that ended up in money for the elderly, for the poor, for the kids, for the infrastructure.''

As a hedge against an unexpected downturn in the economy, the governor secured the creation of a $225 million ``rainy day fund.'' The new account, combined with the budget's predicted surplus, will mean an end-of-year budget balance in fiscal year 2001 of $1.3 billion.

Staff writer Holly M. Anderson contributed to this report.

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