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posted: 5/26/2012 4:47 PM

Budget showdown looming in Springfield

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SPRINGFIELD -- State lawmakers foreshadowed a showdown over the Illinois budget Saturday, starting to advance a schools spending plan that would cut schools more deeply than a Senate proposal.

The House and Senate are supposed to agree to a plan by a Thursday deadline, in addition to trying to reform the state's complex retirement systems.

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The House's schools plan would cut how much state money suburban schools get by nearly 4 percent. Suburban schools typically rely on state money less than less-wealthy downstate schools, and the House budget would leave alone money for buses -- an issue that local officials have focused on in particular in recent years.

But the Senate plan doesn't cut schools at all, meaning the two sides will either have to compromise soon or pick one plan.

And at least some suburban lawmakers could foresee missing the deadline, a move that would make Republicans more relevant in a legislature dominated by Democrats because budget plans would require more votes for approval.

"Somehow, I don't know how it happens, but it works out in the end," said state Rep. Sandy Cole of Grayslake, the top Republican on a House budget committee. "The Senate may want to stay here longer, a couple of weeks into June to work on whatever we pass, or they can just concur with what we do and send that off to the governor."

The Senate didn't meet Saturday, and House lawmakers don't believe they'll be bowing to the Senate's budget plan, which generally doesn't cut spending as far.

"They're going to have to come down," said state Rep. Jack Franks, a Marengo Democrat. "We cannot, because of our own rules, spend more than what the revenue estimates are. So they're going to have to come down, there's no other way around it. I hate to say there is no compromise, but that is a fact."

When a House committee gave preliminary approval to a budget proposal for schools Saturday morning, it was clear that not even all House lawmakers would agree to their spending plan. But both Republicans and Democrats voted for it in a 16-5 committee vote, already making the House budget process more bipartisan than the Senate's.

"I don't know that we can have consensus," said state Rep. Sandra Pihos, a Glen Ellyn Republican. "But it was a democratic process."

Both the House and Senate resume meeting Monday.

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