The final week of May is here, and as usual that means the major issues are in limbo as state lawmakers try to wrap up their spring legislative session. This year's drama, however, might top even the past couple of years, when former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and legislature were in constant fighting mode. This week’s State Capitol Q&A takes a closer look at what still needs to be resolved this week at the Capitol.
The final week of May is here, and as usual that means the major issues are in limbo as state lawmakers try to wrap up their spring legislative session. This year's drama, however, might top even the past couple of years, when former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and legislature were in constant fighting mode.
This week’s State Capitol Q&A takes a closer look at what still needs to be resolved this week at the Capitol.
Q: What are the biggest issues still pending in the legislature?
A: The budget, a capital construction program and ethics reform.
A new budget is by far the biggest – and most uncertain with five days of work left. It has a major hole of about $11.6 billion, and lawmakers aren't thrilled with how Gov. Pat Quinn has proposed fixing it. They don't want to raise income taxes or cut services and programs in a bad economy.
Something has to give.
Quinn has warned of a "doomsday" budget, with thousands of layoffs and closures, if he doesn't get the budget plan he wants. But the House has advanced the main pieces of the budget that have to be put into place for next year, and there's some thought they could leave the rest for the governor to decide what to keep and what to cut.
A variation of that plan played out last year, when lawmakers sent then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich an out-of-whack budget and forced him to make cuts. The result was weeks of back-and-forth, special sessions and finger pointing.
The problem is much worse this time. The results could be much worse, too.
Q: Didn't lawmakers approve a capital construction program last week?
A: Yes, sort of. For the first time in a decade, lawmakers agreed to the framework for a $29 billion construction program and approved it. But then Quinn, who wanted them to wait on capital until getting other issues resolved, said he wouldn't sign it until he also got acceptable budget and ethics plans.
The House then called his bluff and used a parliamentary move to keep the three capital bills from going to his desk. Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, said the governor went back on his word and shouldn't have the bills. So that dispute still needs resolved.
Also, lawmakers are working on the details of more than $1 billion in additional capital spending. Quinn wants that to include $400 million for high-speed rail service.
Q: What's the latest on cleaning up state government?
A: Fittingly, it's a bit of a mess.
Lawmakers promise they're committed to strengthening ethics regulations in the wake of Blagojevich's arrest and impeachment. They know if they don't do something, public outrage could hit them big time.
But the catch is what they approve – and what they don't.
The Illinois Reform Commission picked by Quinn has a set of sweeping ethics reforms out for consideration that so far are getting a mixed reception.
Lawmakers have real problems with setting low caps on donations received by themselves and other politicians and are also fighting efforts to restrict how much money legislative leaders can give to candidates for legislative office. They say those changes will just drive money outside the regulated system.
But already, lawmakers have been accused of stifling and stalling reform pushed by the commission.
"I think there are people who want the status quo to continue," Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno, of Lemont, said late last week. "Those would be the people that have the majorities in this institution right now, the Democrats. They don't want to change it."
Look for the tension to rise on both sides if no agreements can be hashed out later this week. Quinn could complicate the whole situation if he insists on tying ethics to resolving the budget and capital quandaries.
Ryan Keith can be reached at (217) 788-1518 or email@example.com.