SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois Senate President Emil Jones said Thursday the Senate may be willing to support a stopgap spending measure to keep state government operating if the current budget stalemate continues into July.

By DOUG FINKE


STATE CAPITOL BUREAU


 


SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois Senate President Emil Jones said Thursday the Senate may be willing to support a stopgap spending measure to keep state government operating if the current budget stalemate continues into July.


 


However, the Chicago Democrat was cryptic about whether that would be the pared-down budget crafted and approved last week by House Democrats, which he has criticized, or some other measure.


 


“We don’t intend to be put in a position where we’re going to stop the basic services to people,” Jones said after a 90-minute meeting with Gov. Rod Blagojevich and other legislative leaders.  “We’ll be supportive of any initiative that would keep those services going until we come to a budget that’s going to be fair.”


 


During budget talks this week, House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, repeatedly has noted that the House last week OK’d a fiscal 2008 spending plan, and all the Senate needs to do is adopt it to keep state government operating past June 30. The fiscal 2007 budget expires at the end of the month and along with it the state’s authority to write checks for a variety of expenses.


 


However, the Senate cannot vote on the House plan. Downstate Democrats demanding electric-rate relief used a parliamentary maneuver to keep the budget in the House, and they will not release it until acceptable rate relief is enacted for customers of Ameren and Commonwealth Edison who’ve been hit with skyrocketing power bills this year.


 


Blagojevich has blamed Madigan for allowing the House budget to be held hostage until a rate-relief plan is approved.


 


“I really don’t understand why the governor is trying to pinpoint me alone on that issue,” Madigan said after Thursday’s meeting. “The idea that there is a connection between the budget and electric rates came from the downstate Democratic caucus in the House.”


 


Speaking for Blagojevich after the meeting, Deputy Gov. Sheila Nix raised the specter of a government shutdown if a spending plan isn’t approved by June 30.


 


“The governor’s always supported a freeze and rate relief for consumers,” Nix said. “We also think it’s important to proceed on that, as well as the budget, so we don’t end in a situation where you risk some kind of shutdown at the end of the month.”


 


But if the House spending plan were approved by the Senate, it still would not solve the state’s budget problems. Even Madigan has conceded that the plan does not contain enough money to keep state government operating for an entire year.


 


During Thursday’s meeting, Madigan staffers said it’s $600 million out of balance. House Republican Leader Tom Cross of Oswego said the gap is more like $1.2 billion.


 


The House Democratic budget would keep state operations going past June 30, but substantially more money would have to be added later — or cuts would have to be made — to get the state through an entire budget year.


 


“The governor urged (the House) to fix those holes and pass that budget on over to the Senate so they can consider it,” Nix said.


 


Jones made it clear the House plan will not be the final word on the budget as far as Senate Democrats are concerned.


 


“It’s a really bad budget,” he said.


 


Despite demands from Blagojevich’s office that lawmakers work at least five days a week until a budget is passed, they finished their work week Thursday. The House won’t return until Tuesday, while the Senate will not resume work until Thursday.


 


“I want to make sure we have all of our members (in attendance),” Jones said of the delay.


 


He acknowledged that some members of the Senate Democrats’ Hispanic Caucus will be gone early next week attending a conference.


 


After meeting for three consecutive days, Blagojevich and the four legislative leaders have not scheduled another get-together to try and reach a budget resolution. 


 


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