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Budget Negotiators 'Still Smiling,' Say Compromise Is Near

Statehouse exit sign
Brian Mackey
NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

With just two days remaining in the spring session of the Illinois General Assembly, lawmakers are optimistic about passing a state budget on time.

After the knock-down, drag-out fights of the previous three years, the fact that Democrats and Republicans are still talking to each other is making people almost giddy.

“I think we’re all still smiling. That’s a good sign,” state Sen. Heather Steans says.

The Chicago Democrat described the status of budget talks by repeating something she heard from a Republican colleague: “You know when a pond first freezes over in winter, and you take little steps out there, and keep testing it to make sure it’s going to hold? It seems like we’re getting father out there and it’s still holding."

Steans says lawmakers have all but come to terms on the main budget, but are still working out a modest plan for construction. That could include money to repair or replace the legionella-plagued veterans home in Quincy, and possibly to kick in for the Obama presidential center in Chicago.

Steans also says she wants to avoid “fake savings” — like selling the Thompson Center in Chicago or squeezing savings from state employee health care. Both ideas have been included in past budget plans, but neither has actually saved any money.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of legislators held a news conference Tuesday to say they couldn’t support a budget that spent money on abortions — a practice that was authorized in a new law last year.

Steans says the issue never came up during negotiations, and she can’t see how it could be separated from the rest of the budget.

Brian Mackey formerly reported on state government and politics for NPR Illinois and a dozen other public radio stations across the state. Before that, he was A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
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