SPRINGFIELD — A $26 billion road, bridge and school building program zoomed out of the Illinois Senate on Wednesday, fueled largely by higher taxes on booze and a controversial expansion of gambling.

The long-awaited construction program faces an uncertain fate in the House, where lawmakers were instead focused Wednesday on finding a way to keep the state afloat without an income tax increase.

With less than 10 days before their scheduled adjournment, the two chambers were working on separate tracks in hopes of finding some agreement on the two major financial issues facing the state.

The Senate construction plan will add $2.8 billion in new road projects, generate $1.5 billion for new schools and give $718 million to public universities. Community colleges, state parks and prisons also would get money for new and improved facilities.

“Job well done. Let’s get this to the governor’s desk,” said Sen. John Jones, R-Mount Vernon.

Twelve senators voted against the tax and fee increases but then joined their 59 colleagues in supporting the spending portion of the plan.

The legislation calls for higher fees for driver’s licenses, license plates and title transfers. It would legalize video poker in bars and clubs, bringing in an estimated $375 million in new revenue.

The state tax on hard liquor, wine and beer also would rise to bring in an estimated $114 million in new revenue. The cost of a case of beer would jump by 10.6 cents.

The plan also would eliminate a tax exemption on candy, noncarbonated beverages and health and beauty aids.

Labor groups lauded the proposal.

“This is about jobs, jobs and jobs,” said Illinois AFL-CIO President Michael Carrigan of Decatur. “It will put paychecks in local banks.”

Gambling opponents said video poker would bring gambling into every corner of the state and lead to widespread gambling addiction.

Other interest groups said raising the tax on alcohol could send people fleeing to neighboring states for cheaper beer and wine.

While the Senate was signing off on a construction plan, the House began approving a portion of the state’s annual operating budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The state budget presents tough choices for lawmakers, with a more than $11 billion deficit.

Lawmakers, for now, have not directly addressed Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposal to raise income taxes to help close the budget gap. Many think there are not enough votes to support an income tax hike.

Some are warning of dire consequences if the income tax isn’t raised.

“If they don’t pass an income tax increase, there is going to be anywhere from 25 to 50 percent cuts,” Rep. Pat Verschoore, D-Milan, said.


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