NEWS

DOUG FINKE: Budget showdown looming

Doug Finke

Things seem to be lining up for the big showdown between Gov. ROD BLAGOJEVICH and the General Assembly.

Nothing’s certain, but lawmakers keep talking about how they believe they’ll be asked to vote on a permanent budget on Tuesday. Comptroller DAN HYNES said a budget needs to be in place by Wednesday or school aid payments and some state employee paychecks will be delayed.

From all indications, it won’t be a budget anywhere close to what Blagojevich initially wanted. Schools will be lucky to get half the increase the governor sought in his budget. It’s unclear if a construction bond program will be included, since no one can seem to agree on what should be in it or how to pay for it.

Blagojevich’s universal health-care plan will go up or down on its own, not as a component of the budget. So far, the plan doesn’t have enough votes to pass the Senate, let alone in the House, presided over by Blagojevich’s arch-enemy, Speaker MICHAEL MADIGAN, D-Chicago.

In a blustery letter to the leaders last week, Blagojevich listed the stuff that has to be in the budget for him to sign it. Much of that list doesn’t appear to be there. In the letter, Blagojevich said an inadequate budget will precipitate a government shutdown because he won’t sign it. (Translation: I didn’t get what I want so I’m shutting down state government and blaming you lawmakers.)

Blagojevich has backed down from his over-the-top threats before, and it’s safe to say most lawmakers are hoping he does the same now. We should know fairly soon.

n If the state ever did get to a shutdown, it wouldn’t be a total, complete shutdown. Prisons, for example, would remain open. There would be an array of “essential services” that would keep running even in this worst-case scenario.

We’re assuming the governor’s airplane will be considered an essential service, allowing him to conduct aerial bridge inspections as he flies back and forth to Chicago.

n Illinois State Fair officials insist the show will start on schedule Friday, despite the budget impasse. That means the fair’s Twilight Parade in Springfield will be held the night before.

Blagojevich has been part of the parade every year. His staff said there’s no reason to think he won’t march in it again this year. That could be more entertaining than the fair itself. The governor walking in a parade route lined with hundreds of people facing payless paydays because of him.

Be sure to bring the kids. They can learn some interesting new words.

n “I think it is cynical to use state employees and vendors and the recipients of state services as pawns in a budget dispute …”

— Blagojevich hours before issuing a letter threatening a government shutdown if he doesn’t get what he wants in a new state budget.

n “At the end of the day, do people really care whether or not the Cubs win in 14 innings or nine innings? It’s whether they win or lose.”

— Blagojevich on whether the public thinks the marathon overtime session is pointless.

n “They want to eat at the trough, but they don’t want to feed the pig.”

— Sen. Rickey Hendon, D-Chicago, complaining that Republicans want a capital bill, but don’t want to vote for gambling expansion to pay for it.

n House Minority Leader TOM CROSS, R-Oswego, celebrated a birthday last week. Blagojevich decided to give him a gift and deliver it personally.

So, the governor, Rep. JAY HOFFMAN, D-Collinsville, and a woman staffer went to Cross’ office to give him a copy of “The Analects” by Confucius. It is a collection of the teachings of Confucius. At least some of the book contains Chinese characters, hence the presence of the staffer, who can speak and read Chinese.

“So I come out (of my office) and he’s sitting in the chair reading this book with Jay and this woman,” Cross said. “He wanted her to read it to me.”

And here’s the upshot. Blagojevich admitted he was regifting the book. In other words, Blagojevich got it as a gift, and now he’s passing it on as gift.

“I haven’t figured out the meaning of why this book, but it was very nice of him,” Cross said.

Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527 or doug.finke@sj-r.com.