By Monique Garcia
Cities and towns across Illinois will soon receive an infusion of cash to operate 911 centers, plow roads and train firefighters under a measure the Senate sent Gov. Bruce Rauner and he quickly signed Monday.
The legislation also would funnel money to the Illinois Lottery for prize payouts and ensure low-income families get help paying heating bills after both programs were thrown into turmoil due to the ongoing budget impasse between the Republican governor and Democrats who control the legislature.
The measure represents a rare area of agreement between the warring sides, and would release a total of $3.1 billion that's been on hold as the state enters a sixth month without full spending authority. In addition to $1 billion set aside for the lottery, $29 million would go to promote tourism and $43 million will be freed for technical education and adult literacy programs at community colleges.
The bulk of the new spending is money collected in specialized accounts that are earmarked for particular purposes, though the plan also calls for tapping into about $28 million from the state's primary checking account. Roughly $18 million of that will go to domestic violence shelters, and an additional $10 million was set aside for the secretary of state's office, which stopped mailing yearly reminders for drivers to renew their vehicle registration because of the budget crunch.
Lottery officials, who had stopped paying out prizes larger than $600, will start paying winners in the order their claims were received. New prize claims will start being processed next week, once money is transferred into the lottery's accounts.
Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, noted the accord comes amid the holiday season and said he hoped it represented the start of "a more productive 2016."
"What you see with this bill is, frankly evidence that the governor can reach across the aisle and that you can reach back and we can all get on the same page and do things together for the general good of the people we all represent," Murphy said. "Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and to our mayors, good spending."
While the measure passed the Senate 53-0, Rauner was initially opposed to an earlier plan to disburse the money, saying the additional spending would force a tax increase. But Rauner switched positions, saying he would support the bill if it also included more money for things like debt payments and salting and plowing of roads.
Rauner billed the move as a compromise, although it also provided him political cover as some House Republicans were willing to vote for the Democratic plan in the face of pressure from suburban mayors to free up the money. House Democrats ignored the governor's requests and pressed on with their first plan, but ultimately used a procedural move to prevent the legislation from going to the Senate while the latest deal was worked out.
Monday's action is likely to be the last major effort to plug budget holes for the remainder of the calendar year, as neither the House or Senate is scheduled to return to the Capitol until January.
Key areas that remain unfunded include colleges and universities, scholarship programs for low-income students and various programs for victims of sexual assault and those with developmental disabilities.
The governor is expected to meet with legislative leaders in Chicago on Tuesday to continue talks, though there's little belief a comprehensive deal will be struck soon.
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