CHICAGO - Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich yesterday announced $150 million in funding for community and neighborhood initiatives in Chicago following a spate of violence that has raised the death toll of public school students here so far this year to 24.

The funds, however, are contingent on the state approving a proposed $25 billion capital budget. The governor and lawmakers remain at odds on how to finance it.

Blagojevich has proposed $3.8 billion of new borrowing and $7 billion from a partial lease of the Illinois Lottery. The remainder would come from matching local and federal funds and pay-as-you-go funds from various sources, including transportation-related fees and taxes.

The plan - dubbed Community Investment Works - aims to reduce teen violence through greater investment in various initiatives and neighborhoods. They would include $30 million for a summer employment program, $20 million for after-school activities, and $100 million for community renewal projects in at-risk neighborhoods and for job-creation efforts.

"By putting state support behind local efforts that are making a difference in struggling communities, we can make a big difference," the governor said in a statement. "I hope lawmakers will join me in putting a state strategy in place to save our youth."

Community groups and activists that attended a news conference praised the proposal for the infusion of funds it would provide for programs and efforts that could help curb violence, especially as summer approaches.

Blagojevich's critics, including some lawmakers, called it a public relations ploy by a beleaguered governor that relies on a funding stream that is still being negotiated. During the ongoing state corruption trial of his former fundraiser and adviser, Antoin Rezko, Blagojevich has been accused in testimony of rewarding a contributor with a top state post.

 

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