Gov. Pat Quinn signed an approximately $1 billion capital spending plan on Tuesday intended to create jobs and help repair Illinois roads and bridges after a harsh winter.
The Chicago Democrat approved the bipartisan legislation that will also provide lawmakers with opportunities to attend popular ribbon-cutting ceremonies in an election year. The plan got overwhelming support in the final days of the legislative session, though some lawmakers were concerned that they didn't have enough time to study where the money would go.
Transportation officials said the money will go toward "shovel ready" road projects that can begin as early as this summer. A majority of the roughly 200 projects will involve resurfacing short segments of roads throughout the state and a few consist of bridge repair after an especially harsh winter.
Quinn estimated that the projects will create some 14,300 jobs. The 210 projects include resurfacing major roadways and reconstructing bridges.
"After the historic winter we experienced, many of our roads and bridges are in desperate need of attention," Erica Borggren, the acting head of the Illinois Department of Transportation, said in a statement. "This construction program is the shot in the arm that our transportation system and our economy needs."
Mingling among the journalists at Gov. Quinn's transportation news conference were at least a half-dozen staffers employed by Quinn's Republican challenger, Bruce Rauner. The event was on public property, but one Rauner staffer with a video camera was summarily evicted.
A spokeswoman for the governor later admitted Quinn's state trooper bodyguard "was mistaken. The event was hosted on public property."
The Rauner campaign publicly expressed outrage, but was privately delighted.
"Maybe next time Quinn himself will blow up on camera," said one Republican insider, who said Rauner's menagerie of costumed characters are in part designed to "get inside Quinn's head."
Video shot by trackers can end up in commercials, such as one of Rauner calling many months ago for a lower minimum wage. He now favors raising it.
Rauner campaign invitations such as the one to Tuesday evening's Downers Grove town hall now include this line: "Rauner for Governor has asked you not to post this event information on your Facebook/Twitter or organization website. Trackers from the opposition are constantly searching for opportunities to disrupt events -- so this is a point of extra caution."
Sources in both campaigns said Rauner's new tighter security has prevented Quinn staffers from recording any Rauner event in recent weeks. After briefly deploying a costumed character to claim Rauner was too "chicken" to offer a balanced budget, the Quinn campaign decided not to compete with Rauner's ‘Quinnochio’ and his newer ‘Blago’ character.
All that aside, some lawmakers supporting Quinn's repair program said it was necessary because the $31 billion "Illinois Jobs Now" program that Quinn signed in 2009 is set to run out of road funding sometime this year. But Transportation Department spokeswoman Paris Ervin said that $115 million will be doled out this year for various projects.
The winter repair plan will be paid for by selling bonds and paying back the loan with revenue from retired bonds. It was scaled back to gain Republican support amid concerns that the state couldn't afford a higher price tag. Democrats failed to gather votes to extend an income tax increase set to roll back in January, potentially creating a loss of $1.8 billion in revenue.
Some lawmakers and a transportation group had proposed paying for road construction with a fuel tax increase, and ending the practice of diverting funds earmarked for road projects to other parts of the budget. That plan was opposed by gas station owners who say the state's fuel tax is already too high.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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