SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois road construction projects will get a $675 million boost this spring under a package of short-term spending projects Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law Thursday that Republicans complained was rushed through with little input from taxpayers.
The supplemental spending bill, which the Senate approved just hours before Quinn signed it, also includes $9 million to keep East St. Louis public schools open through the end of the term and restores $12 million for community mental health program grants, which had been cut from the previous budget.
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Senate Republicans complained that the $1.5 billion spending package was too much, too soon -- although some of it simply was redirected from other purposes or federal money that just needed legislative authorization.
"There's some decent things in there," said Sen. Matt Murphy, a Palatine Republican. "We felt there was an opportunity to reach common ground on some smaller pieces of the package, and that would have been a good start to the session, to look for common ground rather than ramming through more spending on a partisan basis."
But the rush was on because unanticipated state and federal revenue will allow the Illinois Department of Transportation to pump $675 million into additional road and bridge projects this spring. Construction season is just around the corner.
"The projects are going to be let in March so we had to move expeditiously to make sure we move forward on them and get them built," said Sen. Dan Kotowski, the Park Ridge Democrat who sponsored the bill.
The supplemental appropriation is an annual procedure to shore up parts of the state budget running short of funds halfway through the fiscal year.
This year's included new uses for about $54 million in general revenue that wasn't spent for the programs for which it was originally intended. For example, $25 million saved from Quinn's closure of correctional facilities would move to the Department of Children and Family Services to avoid layoffs and bolster the ranks of child-abuse investigators.
"Hardworking employees at the Department of Children and Family Services will continue their critical work of protecting vulnerable children who have been abused and neglected," Quinn said in a statement.
Republicans complained about a $9 million check to East St. Louis schools. The long-troubled district of 6,500 students needs money to meet payroll in the coming weeks, education officials said.
But that much money would have required a change in state law because it limits such emergency payments to $1,000 per student, a ratio the East St. Louis allocation would exceed, said Matt Vanover, spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Education.
The state board has control of the district and is working on solutions for its budget woes, but more state money will be needed next fall, Vanover said.