Capitol Notebook: 44 more to go

Capitol Bureaus

Play of the Week/Head Scratcher:

Gov. Rod Blagojevich's cut of more than $400 million in spending he called "pork" and "non-essential" was a purely political swipe at his adversaries under the Capitol dome. Nothing more and nothing less. He cut dollars for schools, social service agencies, local governments and other community groups - all in the name of political vengeance.

We know this because we use common sense - a trait in short supply among the governor and his advisers, at least based on their public behavior.

Blagojevich did not veto grants secured by Senate President Emil Jones Jr., a Chicago Democrat and the governor's chief ally. But he obliterated grants earmarked by House Speaker Michael Madigan, another Chicago Democrat who is the governor's nemesis.

Meanwhile, he also obliterated grants secured by Senate GOP Leader Frank Watson of Greenville, another Blagojevich adversary who works closely with Madigan. But he went easy on grants earmarked by House GOP Leader Tom Cross of Oswego - the governor's attempt to thwart an attempt by House lawmakers to override his veto, thereby embarrassing Madigan.

The governor also went easy on grants sought by members of an obscure legislative panel that will review his plan for health care expansion. By leaving untouched initiatives sought by these lawmakers, the governor apparently hoped to grease the skids for his plan.

So while the governor's strategy is clear to close observers and even not-so-close observers who use common sense, the governor nonetheless is pretending that his strategy is something other than what it is.

When he first announced the budget cuts in late August, he claimed that he would shift the dollars from the so-called pork projects to his plan for expanded health care. It's not clear how the governor might pull - the Legislature has not approved spending for his plan - but working within the confines of reality has never been the governor's strong suit.

Now that Madigan is sponsoring a series of hearings around Illinois to spotlight the impact of the governor's budget cuts, the governor claims that he vetoed the grants because the state couldn't afford them.

Blagojevich spokesman Justin DeJong on Thursday made this statement to the Peoria Journal Star: "The gross exaggeration of those vetoes made (Thursday) only serves to distract the public from the fact that (Illinois House) Speaker (Mike) Madigan and the House didn't include enough revenues to pay for the projects they inserted into the budget at the last minute without any public discourse or hearings."

Did you follow that? In other words, the governor wants to shift the dollars to his priority - one the Legislature did not approve - but the governor says lawmakers never appropriated sufficient dollars in the first place.

Quotes of Note:

"I have a brief statement. I just want to, first of all, express my displeasure with this microphone." - Blagojevich, at a Chicago appearance, on the feedback emitted from the mic.

"The only thing I can say is: What's she thinking?" - Blagojevich, when asked in Chicago about Regional Transportation Authority board member Judy Baar Topinka's opposition to a quick-fix plan for Chicago's mass transit system. The governor, a Democrat, used the "What's she thinking" slogan during the 2006 gubernatorial campaign against Topinka, a Republican.

Number to Know:

44. That's the number of bills still awaiting action - either a signature or a veto - by the governor, according to the General Assembly's Web site. Lawmakers sent him more than 700 bills so far this year.

Coming Up:

The Illinois Senate is scheduled to return to Springfield on Sept. 17. The Senate also had been expected back in the State Capitol on Sept. 10, but it wound up canceling that session.