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Illinois State Capitol

The Illinois State Capitol is seen on June 19, 2012, in Springfield.

SPRINGFIELD — The lack of progress on solving the Illinois' budget mess had some lawmakers offering up unique ideas to break the logjam Tuesday.

In a plea to her colleagues on the floor of the House, state Rep. Sue Scherer, D-Decatur, suggested every member wear black when they return to the Capitol in November.

Amid the sea of red ink that is state government, Scherer said the move would show solidarity among Democrats and Republicans at a time when the two sides are otherwise far apart.

State Rep. Chad Hays, R-Catlin, argued in favor of locking lawmakers inside the Capitol until a solution is found.

But, Hays' voiced his proposal after most members of the Senate had already left the building following another mostly fruitless trip to the capital city.

Tuesday marked the 112th day state government has been operating without a budget and the first time in a month that the General Assembly convened.

Although Gov. Bruce Rauner met with Republican lawmakers for more than an hour, he offered up no commentary to reporters after the closed-door session.

House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, repeated his mantra that the Republican governor needs to stop holding the budget hostage to his demands for Democrats to approve laws that seek to weaken labor unions.

"I think we should operate in moderation. We shouldn't tolerate collateral damage," Madigan said.

But, the drumbeat of pain surrounding the lack of a budget continued.

On a 7-2 vote, a House committee approved a plan to free up $1.9 billion in spending affecting lottery winnings, gas tax money for cities and towns and cash owed to local 911 emergency telephone systems.

Without a formal budget, the money financing those programs cannot be spent, leaving communities and lottery winners waiting for Rauner and Democrats to end the stalemate.

Diana Stiles, director of the Bureau County 911 system said she has about three months left before her agency runs out of money to operate, leaving residents in danger during emergency situations.

"My county agency needs help right now to survive," Stiles told members of the House Executive Committee.

The legislation, however, is not set to be voted on in the full House until next month. It would then have to move through the Senate.

College students and university presidents descended on the statehouse to urge lawmakers and Rauner to get a budget on the books.

Illinois State University President Larry Dietz said administrators and students say a budget agreement will bring stability to higher education.

"All of our universities are committed to our students to get them through the academic year. That's an ethical obligation. Our students didn't come to our institutions to spend a day, a month or a semester. They came to spend a year. We're hopeful that people will hear us and take some positive action," said Dietz, while he waited for a meeting with House Minority Leader Jim Durkin.

Republicans bemoaned the lack of progress between Rauner and the Democrats.

"How do we get out of this mess, people?" asked state Rep. David Harris, R-Arlington Heights. "Gentlemen, come to the middle. Get an agreement to serve our state. They can do it if the will is there."

The lack of movement on budgetary issues came a day after Illinois' credit rating suffered another hit when Fitch Ratings downgraded the state from A-minus to BBB-plus.

Fitch's move leaves Illinois with the lowest credit rating in the nation.

"The problem just continues to fester," Madigan said.

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kurt.erickson@lee.net

217-782-4043

On Twitter: @Illinois_Stage

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