Illinois gov calls special session on capital bill

CHICAGO (Reuters) – The Illinois Legislature will be back in a special session soon to deal with appropriations for construction projects, Governor Pat Quinn said Monday.

The Democratic governor said he plans to speak with legislative leaders on scheduling a special session, warning that without the appropriations, the state would be forced to shut down scores of road, bridge and other projects later this month. Such a move would imperil thousands of construction jobs.

“We are not going to put 52,000 jobs in Illinois at stake and in jeopardy because those in politics can’t agree,” Quinn told reporters.

The bill in question got tied into the state’s fiscal 2012 budget when it was amended in the Senate last week to add $431 million in additional operational spending. The House subsequently declined to accept the amendment before the legislature ended its session on Tuesday.

Quinn said lawmakers earned an “incomplete” when it came to the $59.1 billion budget they passed for the fiscal year that begins July 1 because they did not properly invest in important areas, like education. Still, he said the special session should focus on billions of dollars in capital appropriations.

Senate President John Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, plans a continued push for the additional funding for education and human services, his spokeswoman said Monday. Some lawmakers in the Democrat-controlled General Assembly had called for spending less than Quinn proposed in his budget to deal with the state’s fiscal woes.

“We already passed the bill without the additional appropriation,” said House Republican Leader Tom Cross, urging the Senate to drop the higher spending.

Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Mike Madigan, said the Senate amendment was rejected because it exceeded the House’s revenue estimate. “So far, no one’s shown where more revenue is available,” Brown said.

Illinois’ widening structural deficit, huge unfunded pension liability, inability to pay its bills on time, cascading bond ratings and propensity to borrow its way out of financial problems have made the state a major worry in the $2.9 trillion U.S. municipal bond market.

The governor gained support from Republican state Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, who called on legislative leaders not to play games with capital projects.

“It is one thing to limit state spending on construction, but quite another to stop payment on projects already under way,” she said in a statement.

The $31 billion capital improvement program Illinois enacted two years ago was already under a dark cloud after a state appeals court in January voided taxes and other revenue earmarked to pay off bonds. The state is currently awaiting a final ruling on the constitutionality of the revenue package from the state supreme court. (Reporting by Karen Pierog; Editing by James Dalgleish and Dan Grebler)