Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Senate rejects $1.5B road plan

Senate rejects $1.5B road plan

By AARON CHAMBERS, Register Star Springfield Bureau

SPRINGFIELD -- Democrats failed Saturday to muscle through a $1.5 billion road program, one with projects slated for the Rock River Valley, amid partisan rancor underscoring the final days of the Legislature's regular session.

Senate Republicans voted against the plan backed by Gov. Rod Blagojevich, denying Democrats the extraordinary support necessary to increase borrowing authority for the state.

As Blagojevich mingled with fellow Democrats during a rare visit to the Senate floor, senators of both parties hurled rhetorical barbs at each other -- even directly at Blagojevich in the case of Republicans who argue that he can't be trusted.

After the vote, Blagojevich blamed the GOP for blocking what he called "a downstate jobs program."

"It's unfortunate that the Republicans are choosing to play partisan politics and are not willing to join us in constructive consensus to create jobs in downstate Illinois," Blagojevich said. "This is one of the more frustrating parts about government."

While Democrats argued that the plan would prompt economic development, Republicans complained that they had no assurance the Blagojevich administration would follow through on projects in their districts.

The Republicans ridiculed a memo purportedly delineating the administration's road priorities. It listed work on Illinois 173 from Illinois 251 to the Boone County line, on North and South Main streets through Rockford and on the U.S. 20 bypass around Freeport.

The memo offered no additional details, such as how much the road projects would cost or when they would be completed.

"This and a dollar will get you a cup of coffee downstairs from Starbucks," said Sen. Peter Roskam, R-Wheaton. "This means nothing."

All three of the Rock River Valley's senators -- Dave Syverson, R-Rockford; Brad Burzynski, R-Clare; and Todd Sieben, R-Geneseo -- voted against the governor's plan.

It was the administration's latest attempt to establish a capital construction program of its own. Since Blagojevich took office in January 2003, the Legislature has refused to give him authority to borrow the cash necessary to finance such a program.

All along, a central question has been foremost in the minds of critics: Where will the governor get the money to pay back borrowed funds?

On Tuesday, Republicans argued that the administration intended to use borrowed cash to cover initial payments on a loan, a practice akin to paying a mortgage with mortgaged funds. They noted that Blagojevich asked to borrow $2.1 billion for a $1.5 billion road program.

But Blagojevich said the extra $600 million was necessary "to be sure we don't undercount the needs." His aides say the administration would cover any loan with cash from a reserve used to finance road construction.

"If you're going to do it, it's awfully hard to ask once; you hate to be in a position to ask twice," Blagojevich said. "So you make sure you got more than you need so you don't have to come back and try to ask these guys to do it again. And we're having a hard enough time to try to get them to do it the first time."

Contact: achambers@rockford.gannett.com; 217-782-2959

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