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Illinois Democrats flexed muscles in passing out pork in Springfield

Dan Petrella, Jeremy Gorner and Ray Long, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

Senate Republican leader John Curran of Downers Grove declined to comment.

Pork-barrel secrecy

Exactly how the local Democratic projects emerged in the current budget is shrouded by a level of secrecy that leaves even many rank-and-file lawmakers from both parties in the dark on matters outside their own districts. But Pritzker’s office provided a few hints.

Manar, Pritzker’s budget point man, said the spending plan the governor proposed last February contained little money for new infrastructure projects, but he acknowledged the final budget contained add-ons he said Harmon and Welch negotiated.

“We presume that Speaker Welch and President Harmon, when they bring things to the table, that what they bring reflects the priorities of the caucuses that they represent,” Manar said.

The governor signed the budget bill almost entirely intact. His only change was to rein in the size of the pay hikes legislators gave themselves because they approved more than the 5% increase authorized by state law.

 

In a 3,400-word news release that included laudatory quotes from Welch and Harmon, Pritzker proclaimed the budget included funds to help students, expand clean energy, attract industry and bolster child care. He said he worked with lawmakers to “restore fiscal responsibility to our state government after years of mismanagement.”

The Democrats’ push in late May was similar to the typical frenzies that break out in Springfield near the end of session when lawmakers often add pork projects to lure more votes for the budget.

But this time Republicans missed out en masse when the Democrats sent word to rank-and-file members to toss in a few 11th-hour district add-ons.

“The money from the budget, we actually get very little time to figure it out,” said Rep. Joyce Mason, D-Gurnee, explaining how rank-and-file lawmakers need to be ready to identify projects if budget negotiators greenlight local money at the last minute.

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