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State budget agreement close

State budget agreement close

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SPRINGFIELD - Top Democrats moved to the verge of an agreement on a new state budget Wednesday, saying they need to fill in only minor details and plan to have lawmakers vote on the proposal next week.

Their pronouncement of major progress came after more than six hours of meetings Tuesday and Wednesday among Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the two Democratic legislative leaders on a new $55 billion spending plan for the budget year that begins July 1.

"There's a few minor issues that we're trying to get taken care of,'' said Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago. "I'm quite sure we'll come to a resolve on them.''

House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, wouldn't comment after negotiations Wednesday but said "we're there'' Tuesday when asked how close they were to an agreement. Blagojevich spokeswoman Rebecca Rausch said the leaders were "making a lot of progress.''

Leaders and budget negotiators are remaining tightlipped about many details of the proposal they're working on, in part out of fear any tentative agreement could fall apart if it becomes public too long before lawmakers vote on it.

"Sometimes you think you have things well in hand and there still is a blowup of some kind,'' said Rep. Gary Hannig of Litchfield, a top House Democrat negotiator.

Leaders are having staff work on budget details for the next few days and didn't say when they would meet again.

But Hannig said lawmakers could start moving pieces of the budget package along as early as Monday when the House returns to work.

That could put parts of the budget in place Tuesday for the Senate, which returns after a two-week break prompted by scheduling conflicts that popped up when legislators didn't wrap up their spring legislative session April 7 as planned.

Democrats say the plan generally looks much like what Blagojevich proposed in February, with some twists made to ensure legislative support.

Programs he proposed as part of $1 billion in new spending include universal preschool and college scholarships for good students. Those will be part of the budget, but some of the revenue ideas the governor proposed to pay for them, such as closing corporate tax "loopholes,'' don't have enough support to pass and have been scrapped, Democrats say.

Jones said the college scholarship plan will be changed to ensure it benefits middle-income families whose children now don't qualify for other aid, but he wouldn't discuss specifics.

"You'll get it at the right time,'' Jones said.

Jones also said leaders have agreed to about $400 million in new spending for education.

Lawmakers might turn down the governor's plan to spend $100 million on stem cell research over five years because of ideological differences.

There's also likely to be additional spending than the governor proposed on projects and programs Democrat lawmakers want to secure key votes, since leaders plan to pass the budget without Republican support.

"Governors always hold back a little bit of money because they know in the end they're going to have to do something for the Legislature that will extract some price from him in order to get his things,'' Hannig said.


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