The Budget: What You Won, Lost State Spending Plan Aids Bartlett, Boeing, Snubs Suburban Drivers, Gay Rights

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Byline: John Patterson Daily Herald State Government Writer

SPRINGFIELD - If the General Assembly had an official scorekeeper, suburban motorists this year would have ended up in the loss column.

Plans to get rid of tolls never materialized, leading to the prospect of higher tolls in the near future. And, to add insult to injury, there will be no state relief from rising gasoline prices, which have hit the Chicago area harder than almost anywhere in the nation and are on pace to top last year's record highs.

In addition, state transportation officials put on hold any construction plans for western access to O'Hare International Airport until the raging debate over airports around Chicago is resolved.

And, for Lake County, a plan to let voters give the thumbs up or thumbs down to a sales tax increase to pay for roads was never voted on in the House and died.

In short, it was not a good session for suburban drivers.

Anti-tollway groups were stunned that lawmakers could approve a $53 billion budget and still claim there is not enough money to take over the tollway system.

"However, they came up with $20 million for a dinosaur that died a million years ago," said Russell Johnson of No Tolls, referring to the state's plan to help the Field Museum's renovation and improvement plans. That expense made it into the state budget.

The demise of the tollway plan was a rare defeat for Gov. George Ryan. He unveiled his much-anticipated plan to eliminate tolls in March only to watch as it went nowhere.

Lawmakers never warmed to the plan, largely because it would have raised tolls now but not called for the last tollbooth to be torn down for 20 years. The plan never was voted on by the full House or Senate.

"We gave it our best shot. We put together the best program that we thought we could put together that would maintain the system, rebuild it and not increase the tolls, and would eventually eliminate the tolls," Ryan said.

"We're going to have to go back to the drawing board and see if we can come up with something else," the governor said. "But it's the first time that I can remember that somebody has proposed an elimination of the tolls and to tear down the tollbooths."

Other losers

Suburban motorists weren't the only losers this session.

Abortion opponents saw the Illinois House twice vote down a proposed law that would have required girls to tell their parents 48 hours before seeking abortions. State Rep. Terry Parke, a Hoffman Estates Republican, tried to rally support, calling Illinois an "abortion dumping ground" for other states. …