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Chunk of Construction Plan on Fast Track in Ill.

Sun April 05, 2009 - Midwest Edition
Andrea Zelinski - ASSOCIATED PRESS

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) At least one piece of a statewide construction program could be approved next week as Illinois officials scramble to create jobs during the spring construction season.

Gov. Pat Quinn said March 25 he has reached an understanding with Democratic legislative leaders that they will pass at least a part of the measure before lawmakers begin their spring break on April 3.

“I think we worked out a blueprint or road map to get Illinois’ jobs program moving forward,” Quinn said.

He wouldn’t provide details.

But a spokeswoman for Senate President John Cullerton said top Democrats have agreed to quick action on a roughly $1.5 billion plan to fill potholes and resurface roads. Rikeesha Phelon said money would be taken out of the state road fund to pay for the work.

Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, said there was no firm agreement. But he said there are plenty of smaller road projects on the table that could be approved quickly while officials seek a deal on a much large program.

Quinn has proposed a $26 billion construction program to build roads, modernize schools and repair mass transit systems. He would pay for it by raising the cost of driver’s licenses and registration fees — a touchy idea for lawmakers worried about backlash from voters.

Lawmakers have haggled over details of a major construction program for years, to no avail.

The biggest sticking point is how to pay for it. Past proposals included leasing the lottery, expanding gambling and raising taxes.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say a public works program would strengthen the state economy. Quinn estimates his version would support 360,000 jobs.

Illinois’ unemployment rate jumped to 8.6 percent last month, up from 7.8 percent in January.

About 37,200 people lost jobs last month, according to the Illinois Department of Employment Security. That leaves 570,100 Illinoisans without jobs, the most since November 1983.

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