Weekly Statehouse Insider column focuses on the inner workings of the General Assembly on the state budget this legislative session.
After weeks of saber rattling about a government shutdown should the budget impasse continue, Gov. ROD BLAGOJEVICH and the four legislative leaders decided maybe that wasn’t such a good idea.
The speculation has already started about who caved into the pressure first. Who cares? It’s just nice to see that they finally came to their senses about something this spring.
n Still, don’t get too giddy that a state government shutdown has been averted. The General Assembly hasn’t passed anything yet.
This whole session has been marked by political maneuvering: Who can get the upper hand inside the Capitol. Who can embarrass who. It’s mainly a bunch of stuff that doesn’t matter one iota to anyone outside of the super-egos who run state government nowadays.
There’s no guarantee that one or more of these “leaders” won’t use the temporary budget as an excuse to do more of the same. In fact, one reporter asked House Speaker MICHAEL MADIGAN, D-Chicago, last week if it was possible a one-month budget could still hit a snag, even though all of the top dogs solemnly pledged that they want to pass one.
Madigan chuckled and said, “Don’t sell us short.”
n A one-month budget, if approved, will do two things: It will keep government operating through July, and it will probably keep the budget talks going through July, too.
As bad as a shutdown would be, it was still the one hammer that might have forced the governor and leaders to do some serious negotiating on a permanent budget. That pressure will be gone now until the end of July, when another shutdown crisis will loom.
Don’t think these guys will dilly-dally around for another month? Consider what Blagojevich said last week.
“We now have six weeks. If we can’t finish (a full budget) by the end of next week, then we will be working through July …” he said.
They nearly went through July in 2004. A budget wasn’t approved until the 24th. More than a few people think it only got resolved then because the Democratic National Convention was starting on the 26th, and many Illinois Democrats wanted to attend.
The bad news is there are no conventions this year. The good news is… well, there is no good news.
n For weeks, Madigan’s favorite line following budget talks has been, “The House has passed a budget.” Read that as we’ve done our job, it’s the best that’s going to happen, so deal with it.
Then, the Senate went on record saying basically that the Madigan budget isn’t going to pass the Senate if it ever comes up for a vote. Then, about two dozen House Democrats who voted for the Madigan budget signed a letter saying they, too, think it is inadequate, despite their previous vote.
Blagojevich, of course, hailed these developments. To him, any setback for Madigan is a great day for Illinois.
“Now that Speaker Madigan’s budget is dead … we’re back to square one,” Blagojevich crowed. “It is a new opportunity to begin anew and to begin fresh.”
Isn’t that great? The General Assembly’s spring session officially began in January, and the budget talks reached square one on June 21. That means they should be hitting square two right around Christmas.
n Blagojevich was happy with the way budget talks went Thursday. He said he and the four leaders each took turns stating their top budget priorities. Blagojevich took credit for initiating this discussion and seemed quite pleased with this innovative approach, actually asking negotiators what they want after weeks of pointless meetings.
Senate Minority Leader FRANK WATSON, R-Greenville, said his top priority is to have the state live within its means and pay its bills on time. The governor said he was “heartened” by Watson’s statement.
“That’s not inconsistent with the budgets that we’ve proposed,” Blagojevich said.
Well, yeah, Blagojevich’s budget lives within the state’s means as long as lawmakers raise taxes by $9 billion and agree to lease the lottery. We can guarantee that’s not what Watson was talking about.
n Here’s Watson after the tentative agreement was reached to avoid a government shutdown.
“I mean, we really kind of talked about a budget that might have some end at the light of the tunnel here,” Watson said.
The excitement must have been too much for him.
Doug Finke can be reached at 788-1527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.