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Who won or lost at the Illinois statehouse
By Nicole Milstead and Dan Carden | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 6/7/2009 12:01 AM

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SPRINGFIELD - State taxpayers were among the winners in the 95th General Assembly this year - at least for now - when a higher income tax was voted down.

But the outcome could also mean that schools and anyone else relying on state assistance could soon become losers in the continually evolving political gamesmanship on display at the Capitol.

Unable to find the votes to raise taxes and unable to stomach deep budget cuts, Democratic leaders punted the budget back to Gov. Pat Quinn, sending him a plan that covers only about half the year.

Quinn and legislative leaders from both parties continue to meet to try to fashion an accord, with the July 1 start of the budget year becoming the new deadline for action.

Without a new deal, Quinn says not-for-profit agencies that get state money to help the developmentally disabled, provide home care for seniors and treat the addicted will likely be cut off in July. The layoffs, he said, would affect thousands.

Local schools fare a bit better in that the state is getting billions in federal aid, but that money barely maintains the status quo and doesn't expand state assistance, even as local costs continue to go up.

Those broad issues remain unresolved for the moment, but there was plenty of other action and inaction during lawmakers' spring session, which tentatively ended May 31.

Here's a look at some of the winners and losers to emerge.

WINNERS

Speeders

Several proposals to use cameras to catch speeding drivers and send them tickets automatically failed in the state Senate. Waukegan Democratic state Sen. Terry Link even revised his original proposal allowing speed cameras nearly everywhere to only allow speed cameras in school, park and hospital zones and could still only get 13 of the 30 votes he needed for approval. The speed camera push so enraged state Sen. Dan Duffy, a Lake Barrington Republican, that he plans to look into banning red light cameras in Illinois.

Swine flu schools

Suburban schools won't lose funding for swine flu closures under a plan approved by lawmakers. The approved proposal will allow schools that closed because of swine flu to use their average daily attendance from the three days after the closure to figure their state aid payments.

The schools that could be affected include Batavia High School, Rotolo Middle School in Batavia, Algonquin Middle School and Larkin High School in Elgin.

Student spines

Students who have very heavy backpacks are going to get some help this year. The legislature passed a plan to develop a task force to work with textbook companies to develop lighter alternatives to textbooks to cause fewer injuries to children.

Harper College

A long-standing disagreement between the Palatine community college and Northern Illinois University may soon be over after the two institutions agreed to negotiate this summer over having NIU run a four-year bachelor's degree program at Harper College. Harper also scored big in the state's first construction program in 10 years, landing more than $60 million in state money to build a student life and admissions center and to renovate its engineering and technology center.

Bullet train

High-speed rail from Chicago to St. Louis got a $400 million allocation in the final construction-spending plan after the governor pushed for it.

High school sports stadiums

The Illinois General Assembly gave approval to legislation that would exempt existing school sporting venues from a requirement that all second-story press boxes have elevator access for people with disabilities. Schools estimated installing an elevator would cost between $80,000 and $100,000 for each press box.

Canadian National

Lawmakers sent a terse letter to Washington asking the president to do something, but didn't actually take any binding action to resolve growing freight train traffic in some suburbs as a result of Canadian National routing more trains out of closer in suburbs and Chicago.

LOSERS

Rod Blagojevich

He was arrested, kicked out of office, indicted and possibly faces prison. On the other hand, he didn't have to clean up any of the financial ruin left behind and can now sit back and say I told you they'd raise your taxes and that's why they wanted me gone.

That said, we combed the state budget proposals and could find no money set aside for a Blagojevich portrait in the Capitol's Hall of Governors. Every previous governor has a portrait hanging there except him.

Gift cards

Gift cardholders will not be able to cash out the last few remaining dollars left on their cars. Legislation was proposed this year in the Illinois House by Rep. Rosemary Mulligan, a Des Plaines Republican, to allow all gift cards with a remain balance of $10 or less be traded in for cash.

Tea and coffee drinkers

Drinkers of canned or bottled coffee and sweet tea soon will be paying more in taxes. Currently items such as Lipton bottled tea or Starbucks double shots are taxed at the 1 percent rate because they are classified as food. Soft drinks, however, are not considered food and get hit with the full 6.25 percent rate. The rate will go up to 6.25 percent after the governor signs the legislation.

District 158

The legislature did not change the way school aid is dished out and, as a result, Huntley Unit District 158 will not collect an additional $2 million in annual funding that it claims it is owed because of an error.

Politicians

An ethics plan wipes out the 2.7 percent "cost of living increase" lawmakers were slated to get and cuts their pay slightly in the form of four furlough days. And in the future they'll have to publicly vote to increase their paychecks rather than have an outside board provide them political cover.

Gay marriage

Gays couples are still not allow to be married nor have civil unions in Illinois despite efforts of state Rep. Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat who continued to push for the legislation this year.

Gamblers, drinkers and drivers

Congratulations, you likely won the opportunity to pay for a multibillion state construction program, mostly by losing while playing video poker machines soon to be in Illinois bars, paying higher alcohol taxes and forking over more for license plates and licenses. It's not final yet as the deal has yet to be sent to the governor for his signature.

Medical marijuana

While the state Senate narrowly approved a program setting up rules for growing or obtaining medicinal marijuana, the plan never came up for a vote in the House. Proponents said they'll try again in the fall.