SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan appeared to draw the line on a new state budget Wednesday, saying a House Democratic plan passed last week represents the “high water mark” for spending.


 

By DOUG FINKE


STATE CAPITOL BUREAU


 


SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan appeared to draw the line on a new state budget Wednesday, saying a House Democratic plan passed last week represents the “high water mark” for spending.


 


After another two-hour meeting with Gov. Rod Blagojevich and other legislative leaders, Madigan repeatedly said, “The House has passed a budget.  The House has passed a budget” when asked about the negotiations.


 


“I think it represents the high-water mark in the House for spending for the next budget year,” the Chicago Democrat said.


 


Madigan noted the presence of a new player, House Republican Leader Tom Cross of Oswego, at the budget bargaining table. Republican votes are now needed to pass a budget in the House, and Cross says his members want an even more limited budget than the one approved by Democrats.


 


The House Democrats’ plan will not fully fund state government for an entire year, something even Madigan concedes. For example, it does not contain money to cover pay raises required by state employee contracts. Cross has estimated the budget hole is at least $1 billion.


 


Still, Madigan again said that the House plan can be sent to the governor as soon as Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, convinces enough Senate Democrats to vote for it. In the Senate, there are enough Democrats to pass a budget without Republican help.


 


Jones, though, views the House Democrats’ plan as unacceptable.


 


“The proposed budget they voted on in the House is unbalanced,” Jones said.


 


Sen. Donne Trotter, a Chicago Democrat and lead budget negotiator for Jones, said Senate Democrats view the House proposal as the floor for negotiating additional spending increases for education, health care and other programs.


 


Meanwhile, Wednesday’s talks produced little movement on any of the issues splitting lawmakers and forcing the General Assembly into overtime.


 


“We make a couple of steps forward, two steps backward, inch by inch,” Jones said.


 


“There’s not been much talk of compromise,” added Senate Republican Leader Frank Watson of Greenville.


 


Much of the meeting focused on Blagojevich’s plan to lease the Illinois Lottery for at least $10 billion and issue $16 billion in bonds to pay down the debt owed to the five state-funded pension systems. Leaders said much of the session involved Blagojevich’s chief operating officer, John Filan, reiterating the plan the governor outlined in his budget speech in March.


 


“We’re prepared to take a good hard look at the whole proposal,” Madigan said before adding, “In working with members of the legislature over several months, I have not detected a large level of support for selling the lottery.”


 


Cross said he has concerns about how the administration will replace the $620 million in lottery profits that now go to schools each year.


 


“That was discussed at length, and I didn’t get a real good answer,” Cross said.


After spending Wednesday discussing pensions, the governor and four leaders are scheduled to talk about gambling and mass-transit funding at a meeting today (Thursday).


 


Jones supports a plan, already approved by the Senate, to add three suburban Chicago riverboat casinos, a land-based casino in Chicago itself and let existing casinos expand. Madigan said that plan will be voted on in a House committee next week.


 


At the same time, Madigan has made he clear he doesn’t think there are enough votes in the House to pass such a massive expansion of gambling. He and Cross favor a plan allowing existing casinos to expand and using the money to fund a construction bond program.


 


Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527 or doug.finke@sj-r.com.