Illinois Budget Approval Does Nothing to End Wild Ride

Published October 1, 2007

Calls for impeachment; legislation introduced to allow voters to recall the governor and lawmakers; lawmakers calling the governor “a madman” and “insane”; $6,000 a day in air shuttle charges to take the governor from his home to the state capital; a budget approved by the state House and Senate; a governor who ignores the approved budget and insists lawmakers stay in session; and a House speaker who defies the governor and tells House members to go home.

These are some of the things Illinois citizens have witnessed since June 1, the start of an overtime budget session that had not ended as of August 10 when Illinois lawmakers approved a $59 billion budget.

Despite the approval of the budget, the session continued, as Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) demanded lawmakers reconvene to pass a one-month budget and address his calls for billions of dollars in new spending for a universal health plan and infrastructure projects.

The governor has not said whether he plans to veto the budget, but his displeasure is evident in his order for lawmakers to stay in session and his public comments after the passage of the budget.

The response of lawmakers to the governor’s order indicates their displeasure with him.

Told to Stay, Lawmakers Go

“We’ve passed a 12-month budget,” House Speaker Michael Madigan (D) told lawmakers after the 98-8 vote. “I don’t see that there’s any need for consideration of a 30-day budget. My advice to all members would be, don’t come to Springfield. We’ve done our jobs.”

Madigan and a handful of lawmakers stayed, while the rest went home.

Spokesmen for Blagojevich responded by announcing they believe Madigan may have violated state law by telling lawmakers to ignore the governor’s order to stay in session. Madigan argued his presence means the House complied with Illinois law.

“This place is becoming the House of Horrors,” said an exasperated Rep. Bill Black (R-Danville) to fellow lawmakers as the budget session wound down August 10.

Democrats Attack Each Other

The legislative session was supposed to end May 31, with a budget that was to take effect July 1. Even though Democrats control the General Assembly and every statewide office including governor, they could not agree on a budget by deadline.

On July 1 lawmakers approved a temporary one-month budget. August opened with no budget, and a shutdown of state government was threatened.

The new budget raises state spending about $1.5 billion, with the increase funded by projected natural growth in revenues. School funding receives the biggest boost, about $600 million.

The budget was approved after about $200 million of local pork-barrel projects were promised to various lawmakers.

Blagojevich slammed the budget, telling reporters, “It’s got so much pork in it that if you were to hold the budget document itself, you’d probably be unable to hold it because it’s so greasy.”

Governor Wants Billions More

Blagojevich continues to insist on the creation of a multibillion-dollar state universal health care plan. This spring he proposed to pay for the plan by levying a $7.3 billion tax on business gross receipts and another $1.3 billion payroll tax on employers who do not provide a certain level of health insurance.

The governor took out television ads and held rallies around the state in which he said his universal health plan and record tax hike to pay for it put him “on the side of the Lord.” His speeches also vilified state businesses for not paying their “fair share” of taxes.

Despite the governor’s rallies and advertisements, in May state representatives passed a resolution rejecting the tax plan by a 107-0 vote.

Gambling, Transit Go Nowhere

A multibillion-dollar construction program tied to the creation of a gambling casino in Chicago also failed. Though Democrats hold comfortable majorities in the House and Senate, Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago) blamed Republicans for the plan’s failure.

The Chicago Transit Authority also received no additional dollars in the General Assembly-approved budget. The CTA is predicting fare hikes and service cutbacks unless it receives $110 million more in state subsidies.

An attempt by Rep. Julie Hamos (D-Evanston) to boost mass transit funding in the Chicago region by imposing a quarter-cent sales tax, on top of the existing quarter-cent sales tax for that purpose, went nowhere.

All of these proposals could come up again if the governor insists on continuing the special session. How far they might get is anyone’s guess.

Hostility between the governor and lawmakers came into the open during floor debates, with legislators referring to him as “a madman” and “insane.”

Governor Becoming ‘Immaterial’

Blagojevich has become nearly irrelevant to the budget process, said Rep. Mike Tryon (R-Crystal Lake).

“[L]egislative leaders of the Governor’s own party have deemed the state’s absent chief completely immaterial,” Tryon said in a media statement.

The governor was roundly mocked by lawmakers and newspaper editorial writers when they learned in July that he was charging taxpayers nearly $6,000 a day for an air shuttle service between Chicago, where he lives, and the state capital of Springfield, where he refuses to live despite the existence of a taxpayer-funded governor’s mansion.

A few days later Blagojevich was further caricatured when news broke that he had charged the state $600 to pay a makeup artist to prep him for his State of the State speech earlier in the year. While on the House floor for reporters and other lawmakers to hear, Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Greenville) mockingly asked House Speaker Madigan when the “Gubernatorial Cosmetology Committee” would meet.

The governor said the charge to the state was a mistake and that the state had been reimbursed. The makeup artist instead has been paid out of the governor’s campaign funds.

Steve Stanek ([email protected]) is managing editor of Budget & Tax News and a research fellow at The Heartland Institute.