Statehouse Insider column for May 23.
There’s about a week left to see if lawmakers are sincere about avoiding another overtime session.
The refrain from members of the General Assembly has grown in the last couple of weeks that they absolutely, positively do not want a repeat of last year, when they spent all summer in Springfield, essentially doing nothing while Gov. ROD BLAGOJEVICH and the four legislative leaders bickered over a budget. When the session finally ended in August, the state had a budget that was no better than one that could have been negotiated weeks earlier if the Statehouse wasn’t filled with feuding political egos.
So everyone claims they’ve learned from last year and that they want to avoid a repeat. Avoiding another long summer in Springfield, though, still requires cooperation among House and Senate Democrats. They’ve each been going their own way on crafting a budget, even a no-frills one. At some point, the two groups are going to have to agree on one plan to meet their May 31 deadline.
House Republicans may also figure in the equation. If Blagojevich decides he doesn’t like the budget sent to him by his fellow Democrats, he could decide to veto the whole thing, leaving the state with no budget. Overriding that veto would take a super-majority in the House and Senate, and in the House, that requires at least some Republican votes. Do they go along or do they use their new-found clout to wring concessions on some of their issues, even if it means overtime?
To paraphrase MICHAEL CORLEONE in “The Godfather,” all of your questions will soon be answered.
-Former U.S. House Speaker DENNIS HASTERT and Southern Illinois University President GLENN POSHARD released their vision for a capital plan last week. It wasn’t much different from what lawmakers have debated -- and never agreed upon -- before.
True, the plan has now ballooned to $31 billion worth of pork in order to keep everyone happy. However, it still relies on expanded gambling and leasing the lottery to pay most of the bills, and those ideas have never gone far in the Capitol.
Worse, it was dropped on lawmakers just last week. Many of them already have come to the conclusion that a capital bill isn’t going to get a vote until after the election. Despite what Blagojevich wants, lawmakers don’t seem inclined to stick around all summer just for the sake of a capital bill. After all, what’s a few more months when you’ve already waited years?
-Hastert and Poshard acknowledged that one of the big obstacles they face is that lawmakers simply don’t trust Blagojevich when it comes to the capital program. They fear he’ll use the money for something other than capital. They think he’s let money be spent only on projects sought by his political allies, even if other projects are included in a capital budget. If you cast a risky vote on expanding gambling or leasing the lottery to pay for capital, you want to get some pork in exchange. That’s only reasonable.
To allay those fears, Hastert and Poshard put some “accountability provisions” in their plan. Money raised for construction projects can only be spent on projects. Ok, that’s good.
They also said Blagojevich will make “good faith efforts” to release money for all projects in a capital budget. Yeah, when you think Blagojevich, you immediately think “good faith.”
There’s also a provision that Blagojevich will sign memoranda of understanding, written promises to release money for projects. Ask Sen. LARRY BOMKE, R-Springfield, what a written promise from the administration is worth. He got one in 2003 promising to reopen the Lincoln Developmental Center in exchange for his vote on a pension bond issue. He’s still waiting for it to reopen.
The initial reaction from lawmakers was that the accountability measures didn’t go far enough, that Blagojevich still has too much latitude to play games. Until that issue is overcome, the capital plan is going nowhere fast.
-”The governor will announce that I get the shaft, but I don’t get the well.” The ever-eloquent Rep. BILL BLACK, R-Danville, using a hypothetical water project to illustrate the fact that lawmakers simply don’t trust the governor to be fair in allocating money from a capital bill.
Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.