Hastert, Poshard propose $31 billion construction plan

By Ryan Keith

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Two former Illinois congressmen proposed a revamped $31 billion construction program Tuesday as time ticks down and lawmakers’ doubts grow about whether they can break a long-running stalemate this spring.

Dennis Hastert and Glenn Poshard put their political weight behind a proposal for roads, schools and other needs paid for by a mix of expanding gambling, selling the state Lottery and using excess tax revenues from soaring gasoline prices.

The new plan, backed by Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s administration, tries to pressure state lawmakers to approve a construction program for the first time in nine years.

But with a deadline for adjournment of May 31 fast approaching, some lawmakers predict a construction plan may be delayed again.

Even Poshard and Hastert, the former U.S. House speaker, acknowledge the fate of a “capital bill” is out of their hands after weeks of meetings with legislators and constituents.

“It’s the best we could possibly do,” Hastert said at a Statehouse news conference. “I think it has a very good chance of moving.”

The two leaders, brought together by Blagojevich earlier this year to help strike a deal, agreed developing the proposal was an arduous but necessary process.

Lawmakers have fought since before Blagojevich took office in 2003 over how to structure a construction plan and how to pay for it. Lawmakers have grown increasingly worried of late that they can’t trust Blagojevich to follow through with money for projects promised in any new program.

Hastert and Poshard say they got input for their plan from all legislative caucuses to try to meet those concerns.

It uses revenue ideas that legislators didn’t balk at, such as a new Chicago casino and slot machines at horse racing tracks. And it tries to address the trust issue by putting limits on what the governor can and can’t do with capital money.

The proposal also aims to please legislators by including even more projects than have been discussed before, although Poshard noted it could only go so far.

“We could have had a $60 billion bill, the needs are so great,” Poshard said.

The congressmen also stressed the urgency for legislators to act now, as billions of dollars in federal money for projects could be in jeopardy if they don’t approve a construction plan soon.

Legislative leaders said they would take it back to their members for consideration.

Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson, R-Greenville, said he’s concerned the plan might not provide enough protection for his members’ liking.

“We still have to have the assurances, the trust that they’re going to deliver on what they say and we need to tie it down as best we can,” Watson said.

Other lawmakers have indicated a construction plan could be delayed until the fall, when they could vote for extra gambling or even a tax increase without imminent voter backlash.

If lawmakers can reach a budget agreement within the next week or so, that could ensure nothing happens on a capital bill, they say.

“They are on two separate tracks,” said Senate Majority Leader Debbie Halvorson, D-Crete. “They are not tied together in any way.”