Road and bridge construction projects around the suburbs could be halted this summer -- along with 52,000 jobs statewide -- if lawmakers don't return to Springfield to approve funding, Gov. Pat Quinn threatened Monday.
If that threat is real, and not just political posturing, the results could be devastating, Illinois Department of Transportation officials say.
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Dozens of suburban projects like the Algonquin bypass construction, widening of Butterfield Road in DuPage County and repaving of Route 59 north of Barrington would all simultaneously stop. And as many as 31,000 highway workers alone could be out of work.
Quinn called on lawmakers to return to the Capitol for a special session to approve funding -- and said he plans to meet with the party leaders of the state House and Senate about just when that might be.
"It's a very serious job crisis," Quinn said at the site of a road project in downtown Chicago, one of the $16.6 billion in projects he said would have to stop.
Though they approved a budget before the May 31 midnight deadline, lawmakers left a few things hanging -- including legislation so the state could continue to spend money on construction projects.
There was disagreement between the House and the Senate over Democrats tacking onto the 2012 budget an added $430 million in education and social services spending, which they tied to the capital projects appropriation. The money, according to Park Ridge Democrat Dan Kotowski, a Senate Appropriations chair, would restore funds for schools, student scholarships and programs for homebound seniors.
"It's just as important to be able to build a road and build a building as well as provide essential services to people who are vulnerable and at risk and trying to achieve greater goals here," Kotowski said.
But Republicans say tying the spending measure to the state's construction projects puts jobs and improvements in jeopardy.
"Frankly, my frustration is with the Senate Democrats hijacking the capital appropriation bill to try and leverage a half billion of more spending," Palatine Republican Sen. Matt Murphy said.
Unless lawmakers authorize spending for the construction program, Quinn said starting June 17 he would have to begin the process of suspending a host of projects.
IDOT spokesman Josh Kauffman said the stop-order could potentially impact 297 work contracts and suspend or cancel nearly 1,000 projects statewide.
IDOT is prepared to notify the staff on June 17 that all work could stop June 30, the final day of the state's fiscal year.
"It's a drastic step, but we have to prepare for the worse-case scenario. It's something we don't want to do," IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell said. "But we expect the effects of this to be far-reaching."
It also would be expensive. According to IDOT, it would cost $30 million to shut down the road projects and $3 million a month to keep the work zones safe.
Projects by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the Illinois Capital Development Board, which includes improvement projects at state universities, also would be in jeopardy.
The Itasca-based Illinois Road and Transportation Builders Association, which represents 400 firms who design and construct the state's transportation infrastructure, issued a statement Monday saying halting these projects would be a "grievous mistake."
"This would have a ripple effect on all of Illinois' economy," IRTBA president Mike Sturino said. "These road construction projects are exactly what will provide some stability to our economy."
Sturino called it "appalling" that taxpayers could end up paying the price for the inability of legislators to come to a budget agreement.
"I don't think it's unreasonable to ask the legislators to halt their own pay if they can't come to an agreement," Sturino said.
In a statement, Democratic Senate President John Cullerton's spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon noted the budget "isn't complete until we address funding for education and human services. If the other caucuses have an alternate way to address both the insufficient operations budget and the capital bill appropriation we would entertain those conversations."
But as of now, passing the capital construction legislation without the added spending measure appears to be the only solution from Republicans' perspective.
"We are always willing to discuss our options, but the clearest one at this point is for the Senate to (send the legislation), without additional spending amendments, to the governor," Sara Wojcicki, spokeswoman for House Republican leader Tom Cross, of Oswego, said.
While legislators hash out the details, state agencies are keeping close tabs on the situation.
"It's a major concern," Kauffman said.
State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka said she will continue to issue checks as long as she is able.
The Associated Press contributed to this report