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IL Lawmakers pass budget, finish session

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(KWMU file photo)

By Bill Wheelhouse, IL Public Radio

Springfield, ILL. –

Illinois lawmakers have finished their spring legislative session.

The General Assembly adjourned last night after passing a $54.4 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts in a month. That's about $500 million than the budget funding state government this current fiscal year.

This session will be remembered for an effort to put caps on damage awards for lawsuits that was backed by Democrats.

It will also be noted for the way lawmakers came up with the money to balance the books.

Illinois Public Radio's Bill Wheelhouse prepared this report from Springfield.

BUDGET RECAP

The budget that passed along a party vote will send about $300 million more to schools (an increase of about 5.4%). It will also allow thousands of more people to enroll in the state's health insurance program.

To pay for it, though, Democrats who control the Legislature passed a plan for the state to skip payments to the state's pension systems this upcoming fiscal year. That will free up the cash, but also plunge the state's pension systems deeper into debt. And at $35 billion, Illinois' pension debt is already the largest in the nation.

HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION

Lawmakers didn't just pass a budget on Tuesday. They also approved tougher requirements for high school graduation.

Starting in 2007, Illinois students will now have to take two years of science, three of math, four of English, and two writing courses.

State Rep. Calvin Giles (D-Chicaog) says Illinois' graduation requirements lag behind other states'. Republicans complained that there was no money in the budget for hiring teachers and building science labs, but Giles says there is time to find money because the standards don't take effect all at once.

Ill. High School Graduation Requirements
(in years needed in each subject)

Subject Now 2005-6 * 2006-7 * 2007-8 * 2008-9 *
English 3 3 3 3 4
Math 2 3 3 3 3
Science 1 1 1 2 2
Social Studies 2 2 2 2 2
Music, Art, Foreign Lang., or Voc. Ed. 1 1 1 1 1
Writing 0 0 2 2 2
* - denotes requirements for those entering 9th grade that year

CASINO TAXES

Other action on the General Assembly's last day means some casinos in Illinois won't be taxed as much.

Right now the largest casinos are taxed at 70%, the highest rate in the nation.

Lawmakers lowered that to 50% after the casinos promised to pay any difference so the state doesn't lose money.

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