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Quinn Won't Sign Public Works Plan Until Ethics Reforms, Tax Increase And High-Speed Rail Money Approved

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) -- Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is using a monstrous state construction bill, desperately wanted by lawmakers to fix roads and schools back home, as leverage as he tries to push through a state budget proposal that includes a sizable income tax increase.

Quinn told reporters outside his office Friday he won't sign the bricks-and-concrete bill until he sees a state operating budget and ethics reforms.

"There is a symmetry in having reforms enacted, a very strong job bill enacted and a budget that's balanced enacted," Quinn said. "That trinity of three important challenges met head on and accomplished is something the people want us to do."

But it angered the House sponsor of the $28.3 billion construction plan. Rep. Lou Lang said Quinn promised legislative leaders that the proposal to improve roads, schools and other structures wouldn't be linked to other legislative activity.

The Skokie Democrat believes Quinn is using the capital plan as a "hammer" over lawmakers queasy about Quinn's proposed 50 percent income tax increase to help close an $11.6 billion operating deficit.

"Holding off on the capital bill is only going to make tense members angry," Lang said. "The governor should sign the capital bill today, have a nice little ceremony, pass out pens, start putting people to work today."

Rikeesha Phelon, spokeswoman for Democratic Senate President John Cullerton of Chicago, said Quinn had asked lawmakers to make the building program a priority and to "do it first." The General Assembly responded and Quinn should too, Phelon said.

The construction would be financed by higher liquor taxes and license fees, legalized video poker and expanded lottery-ticket sales. It's the first major capital program in a decade after years of bickering between lawmakers and Quinn's ousted predecessor, Democrat Rod Blagojevich.

Quinn gave no indication he would veto the measure. He had been wary of funding streams earlier, particularly higher liquor taxes during a recession and legalized video poker. But asked specifically Friday about the gambling, Quinn indicated he would acquiesce.

"I do believe in jobs, and I think we're in an urgent situation in America," Quinn said, "so if it's the wisdom of the General Assembly to use that as a funding source, then I'm not going to get in the way of that."

Lawmakers approved a "mini-capital" plan of $2 billion, bolstered by federal stimulus money, in April.

In addition to that bill and the sweeping construction plan, Quinn is urging lawmakers to pass a follow-up capital measure that would add $400 million to spend on high-speed rail.

That money would ensure Illinois gets all the federal dollars available for high-speed rail from the economic stimulus package. The state plans to seek $2.2 billion for a Chicago-to-St. Louis route.

Administration officials did not answer questions about why the high-speed rail money was not included in the capital legislation adopted this week.

Ethics reforms in the wake of federal corruption charges against the impeached and ousted Blagojevich also must get Quinn's OK. He said he was pleased with progress on some measures proposed by a commission he formed in January, but "some of them need a lot of work."

-ASSOCIATED PRESS

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