* First up, Bethany Jaeger’s report…
The General Assembly is expected to approve a state budget before the deadline, but the budget also is expected to contain a rather large hole. Madigan said the legislature’s job is to approve the spending authority. The actual spending is up to the governor. “If he feels that some of those numbers should be changed, he has a reduction veto.”
The state Constitution grants the governor the power to strike out portions of the budget or to reduce the amount of money dedicated to specific programs.
Under one budget plan being considered, spending on regular state operations would jump $2.1 billion over the current budget. […]
The proposal would give universities a 2.8 percent increase over the current fiscal year and would fund an 80-bed expansion of the LaSalle veterans home.
The plan also would overrule Blagojevich’s earlier bid to close Pontiac Correctional Center by earmarking enough money to keep all of the state’s prisons open.
In addition, the spending proposal would add money to fully open the state’s unused maximum-security prison in Thomson, which was built in 2001, but never opened.
It would give schools another $500 million, including nearly $150 million for two dozen schools to pay for long-delayed construction projects.
Hannig said the new budget does not include money to cover any pay raises for state workers who are members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The union and state are negotiating a new contract to replace the one that expires June 30. […]
Any pay raises that are part of the contract would have to be added to the budget later in the year, Hannig said.
Senate Democrats approved issuing pension bonds and sweeping money from restricted state funds to cover about $1 billion of the new spending. But neither proposal has passed the House, and Hannig was noncommittal about whether he thought they will be taken up there.
Senate Republicans also said the Democrats are assuming the state will collect $1 billion more in tax revenue next year, something they said is highly unlikely given the economic slowdown.
But the deal could force Blagojevich to be the bad guy. […]
“Will the governor have to make some reductions? More than likely he will,” Trotter said, noting Blagojevich slashed more than $450 million in legislative projects last year. […]
The state constitution bars officials from passing a budget that spends more than they estimate will be available. But “estimate” is the key word. Legislators could use generous guesses at tax revenue coming in next year to say they’ve passed a balanced plan.
[Sen. Terry Link] contended there was an Obama factor that also helped move legislators toward a budget plan, knowing that a fracas among Democrats in the legislature where Obama once served would do little to help him.
“Everything we do here is going to be national, under a microscope,” said Link, a close Obama friend.
“That’s why it’s important that [Saturday] night, this gavel is hit and we’re out of here.”
* Prepare for the worst?
Madigan offered no reason for optimism that the legislative loose ends could be tied up by tonight, telling reporters to “plan for the worst” and blaming his nemesis, Blagojevich, for the lack of legislative cohesion.
“He’s now looking at the consequences of a six-year policy of tearing people apart,” Madigan said of the governor.