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Illinois budget would provide more money for schools, prison

BY JOHN O'CONNORAssociated Press

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - A spending plan the Illinois House approved this week includes more money for schools, veterans' homes and prisons.

House Democrats led the way - but by narrow margins - in adopting nearly 80 appropriations measures Thursday that form the basis of a $37 billion budget that begins July 1.

Republicans opposed the effort because they agreed earlier this year that revenues would be about $34 billion in the coming year, and the spending outstrips money to pay the bills. But Democrats are pushing - with backing from Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn - to make permanent a temporary income tax increase. If it rolls back as scheduled in January, the state would lose an estimated $1.8 billion.

Here are some of the highlights of the proposed spending plan:

n Education: Elementary and secondary schools would get $6.7 billion, including an increase of $132 million in general state aid - operating funds for salaries and learning materials. There would be $25 million more for early childhood education and bilingual education would increase by $12 million.

n Veterans: The $77.6 million budget for the Department of Veterans' Affairs would include $9 million more, mostly for additional staffing at veterans homes. The state operates homes in Anna, Quincy, Manteno and LaSalle. Veterans' Affairs Director Erica Borggren, during a visit to Anna this month, said without the continued tax increase, the state could face closing two of the homes.

n Corrections: The state's prison system would re-open two facilities closed just two years ago, transforming former youth prisons into specialized treatment facilities. There's $9 million in the House-approved budget to do that.

The work at the youth center in Joliet has already begun with a $20,000 study. Quinn wants to reopen it as a center for treating inmates with severe mental illness. The state sees it as a way to settle a 2007 federal lawsuit that said Illinois has not addressed mental health issues in its crowded prisons.

The other proposal would open up the former youth site in Murphysboro as a facility to handle repeat drunk driving offenders with an aim toward reducing recidivism.

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