The Illinois Senate voted 39-12 Wednesday to add $2 to the annual license plate renewal fee to provide funding for the maintenance of state parks.
The House had already approved the measure, which now goes to Gov. Pat Quinn. If the governor approves it, the license renewal fee will increase from $99 to $101. The governor has indicated that he approves of the measure.
Metro-east senators voting in favor of Senate Bill 1566 were James Clayborne, D-Belleville; Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville; and Bill Haine, D-Alton. Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon, did not vote.
Superintendents at state parks in the metro-east region say a financial crunch at the Department of Natural Resources has forced them to put off crucial upkeep, such as road repairs.
The agency has seen its annual budget cut from about $107 million to about $45 million. The agency had about 2,600 employees a decade ago, and now has fewer than 1,200.
DNR spokesman Chris McCloud said the agency has a $750 million backlog in maintenance and capital needs, such as deteriorating bath and shower facilities, outdated and dangerous electrical systems, declining water and sewer systems, and roads and bridges that need repairs.
The agency expects the measure to raise $32 million per year. The license plate fee was suggested as an alternative to another idea: charging an entrance fee at state parks.
DNR Director Marc Miller said the measure will help the economy and communities across the state that use and rely on the services of DNR.
"While it's important to remember that capturing these new funds will take time, we will work as quickly as we can to put the new revenues toward their intended purpose," Miller said. "Passage of this bill will help us hire critical staff to maintain state parks, fix aging infrastructure, speed up regulatory functions and make a bigger difference in the lives of everyone we serve."
The House approved the bill in May. Metro-east representatives voting in favor were Dan Beiser, D-Alton; Eddie Lee Jackson, D-East St. Louis and Scott Penny, D-Fairmont City. Voting in opposition were John Cavaletto, R-Salem; Jerry Costello II, D-Smithton; Paul Evans, R-O'Fallon and Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon.
The Senate also voted to restore Quinn's budget cuts that would force the closure of prisons and other state facilities.
The Senate voted 35-16 to reject cuts of $56 million to funds for the Tamms high-security prison, the Dwight women's lockup and other sites, including Warren G. Developmental Center in Centralia.
The measure now moves to the House. But it's largely sympolic: If the House approves it, Quinn wouldn't be forced to spend the money on the facilities. It would, however, prohibit the Democratic governor from spending the cash on anything else.
Quinn opposed the override. He wants to improve child-protection program funding. His administration has argued that Tamms and some juvenile detention centers are underutilized and that developmentally disabled residents in state institutions would do better in community settings.
Rep. Lou Lang has decided not to call his medical marijuana legislation until next week.
The Skokie Democrat told The Associated Press Wednesday he's still not certain he has the 60 votes he needs for passage.
He says he has most of the necessary votes but there are "a whole bunch of people who are wavering." He will continue talking to them over the weekend and try again in the Legislature's second week of its fall session.
Lang believes marijuana should be available in limited amounts for people with specific illnesses who get pain relief from the drug.
It's the tightest such measure in the nation.
Eighteen states allow medical marijuana use and two of those recently OK'd recreational use.
LUECHTEFELD AMMO BILL
The Senate voted 49-4 to override Quinn's veto of a bill sponsored by Luechtefeld. Luechtefeld's bill would have allowed Illinoisans to buy mail-order ammunition from Illinois companies. Ammunition purchases from out-of-state dealers was already allowed under Illinois law.
Quinn had used his veto power to amend the bill, transforming it into a ban on semi-automatic rifles and large-capacity ammunition clips.
"Today is a good day for the Second Amendment in Illinois," Luechtefeld said. "We have scored a victory against short-sighted Chicago anti-gun policies. The Governor overstepped his reach when he decided to rewrite this Senate bill and impose an assault weapons ban."
If the House also overrides the veto, it will restore the bill to its original purpose, allowing the ammo purchases from in-state dealers. An aide to Quinn said he will continue to "vigorously pursue" a ban on so-called assault weapons.
NO PAY RAISES?
The Illinois House is sending a message to state employees who are in the midst of negotiating a new contract: don't expect a pay raise.
The House voted 84-29 Wednesday in favor of a resolution that says lawmakers will not approve funding in fiscal 2013 for a salary increase.
The resolution is not binding. But Speaker Michael Madigan, who sponsored it, says it's intended to send a message to both Quinn and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees that there isn't money for increases.
Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, said the state is "out of money."
TAX BILLS MADE PUBLIC?
Senate President John Cullerton's plan to require corporations' income tax bills to be made public has barely won approval.
The Senate voted 30-27 Wednesday to OK a proposal Cullerton says would help lawmakers plan tax policy.
The Chicago Democrat says legislators don't know whether their tax incentives and credits are working. He says two-thirds of businesses doing work in Illinois pay no corporate income tax.
Republicans criticized the measure as "anti-business (and) anti-employment." Others questioned whether it would be legal to post the information. Cullerton amended the bill to prevent posting of federally prohibited tax information.
Business leaders say it unfairly targets some businesses.
The bill moves to the House.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.