- Associated Press - Saturday, May 31, 2014

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Almost a day ahead of deadline, the Illinois General Assembly wrapped up its spring session early Saturday after approving a $1 billion capital bill to fund road and bridge projects around the state.

Gaveling in just after midnight and out a few minutes later, lawmakers headed home to their districts with several looming issues unaddressed - a byproduct, members said, of the upcoming November election. The House adjourned Friday evening.

The capital bill was the last order of business in a relatively quiet, election-shadowed session in which majority Democrats approved a patchwork $35.7 billion budget they acknowledged puts off tough decisions. Senate Democrats signed off Friday on a budget the House approved earlier in the week, leaving until after the election a decision whether to extend the temporary hike in the state’s income tax, find other revenues or cut more than $4 billion in programs and services.

“With an election in the next six months, it’s probably wise not to be overaggressive,” said state Rep. Mike Zalewski, a Riverside Democrat, adding that neither side was “happy” with the passed budget. “I feel like we’ve done what we need to do. Now we need to go home and see who the next governor is going to be.”

The governor’s race pits incumbent Democrat Pat Quinn, who has advocated the tax extension, against Republican businessman Bruce Rauner, who has called for deeper spending cuts. All 118 House seats are up for re-election, as are a third of the Senate seats.

The capital construction project - approved with bipartisan support Thursday by the House - passed the Senate by a 52-5 vote without debate. Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider said it would fund “shovel-ready” road and bridge projects across the state expected to start this summer.

While highlighting differences between Democrats and Republicans over taxes and spending, the session wrap-up also reflected tensions between Quinn and Democratic legislative leaders.

Quinn had lobbied hard for passage of the tax extension, but couldn’t persuade his party colleagues to approve it this spring. Before adjourning, lawmakers also approved two measures expressing their displeasure over recent differences with the governor.

The first would assure that lawmakers receive a “continuing appropriation” for their salaries. It was a response to Quinn’s decision last year to use his veto pen to block lawmakers’ pay until they moved more quickly to overhaul the state’s pension crisis. The second would provide funding for the Capitol architect, a subtle response to Quinn’s threat to hold up any future renovations after controversy dogged the last ones unveiled.

“This was a stressful session,” Madigan told reporters. “The governor didn’t get everything he wanted, but that’s the nature of the Legislature. That’s the nature of American government.”

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, alluding to the rejection of the tax extension, described several instances where his caucus “walked away and said no to things we believe have been bad for our economy, bad for families in Illinois.”

“My job is to win seats, enough that if Rauner is governor, it won’t be this current Democratic veto-proof majority in the House,” he said.

Among the measures passed late Friday was one allowing election-day voter registration during the November election. Advocates said it’ll make sure more Illinois residents’ voices are heard, but Republicans called it an attempt to drive Democratic turnout.

A measure that stalled was an effort to expand gambling in the state, either by adding five new casinos or one mega-casino in Chicago. On Friday, Democratic Rep. Bob Rita announced he had suspended his efforts to pass the perennial expansion effort again.


Follow Kerry Lester on Twitter at https://twitter.com/kerrylester .

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