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Illinois Government Construction Shutdown Avoided

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — A dispute that threatened to shut down government construction projects across Illinois appeared to end Thursday when the president of the state Senate said he would drop spending demands that triggered the problem.

That should allow for quick approval next week of legislation providing money for another year of work on state roads, bridges and buildings. Without that legislation, authorities said, construction would have been halted on June 30, putting thousands of people out of work.

The construction measure was held up when Senate Democrats attached unrelated spending that would have provided $430 million for a variety of social services. They said the services were vital and that including the money in the construction bill would ensure approval by the Illinois House.

But House Democrats and Republicans alike refused to go along. They adjourned the spring session without voting on the construction measure.

Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, conferred Thursday with other Democrats and then announced they were dropping their spending proposals as well as a suggested compromise that would have provided six months’ worth of construction money.

“The state’s construction program should continue uninterrupted. The Senate intends to return to the Capitol on Wednesday to fully fund the construction program for the full 12-month period,” Cullerton said in a statement.

Cullerton said he isn’t giving up on fixing “major structural deficiencies” in the budget, which wound up spending about $1 billion less than Senate Democrats wanted.

Another Senate Democrat, Ira Silverstein of Chicago, said senators decided it was better to give in on social service spending than risk halting work at the height of construction season.

“We don’t want to lose any more jobs,” Silverstein said after the conference call among Senate Democrats. “‘We made a conscious decision that we’re going to have to save the capital program.”

Sen. Donne Trotter, D-Chicago, said many black senators felt the budget shortchanges programs are important to their constituents. He said they’ll push for more money in January but weren’t willing to hold up construction this summer.

“It put people to work. We can’t be counter-productive,” Trotter said.

Gov. Pat Quinn had set a Friday deadline for lawmakers to come to consensus on the construction bill, saying it was the only way to avert the delay of more than $18 billion in state construction projects. Earlier Thursday he called the situation an emergency and listed dozens of projects statewide that could have been impacted, including the major rebuilding of a downtown Chicago street and a Mississippi Bridge construction project in the St. Louis area. He said the shutdown would idle some 52,000 jobs.

“This agreement will ensure that the state’s biggest jobs program continues, creating thousands of jobs building roads and repairing bridges throughout our state, and boosting our economic recovery,” Quinn said in a statement after Cullerton’s announcement.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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