Doug Finke: Believe it or not, no deal yet

Doug Finke

*Under the category of Believe It or Not, there still is no agreement on a capital/mass transit/gaming package that could finally bring an end to the never-ending 2007 session.

There were more meetings this week between Gov. ROD BLAGOJEVICH and some of the legislative leaders and more dire warnings about getting something done soon, but nada. House Minority Leader TOM CROSS, R-Oswego, said it could be January before something is done.

His assessment may be entirely correct, but Blagojevich has threatened to call lawmakers into special session every day to get something done before Dec. 31. (Blagojevich earlier said he would call a special session before the end of the year to deal with a Cook County property tax bill. Haven’t heard anything more about that issue lately, though).

As of late last week, it wasn’t looking good to get anything done this coming week. That pretty much leaves the week before Christmas, which should put everyone in a fine mood to compromise.

*It didn’t happen exactly like many people predicted, but the result is the same.

Blagojevich announced last summer that he was going to expand state-funded health care programs, even though the General Assembly never approved the expansion. He was going to do it by rewriting the rules for participating in the program as he saw fit.

Those rules changes don’t go before the full General Assembly. However, they do have to be reviewed by the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, a b-partisan panel of 12 lawmakers, six each from the House and Senate. As expected, JCAR told Blagojevich to forget it and blocked the rules changes from taking effect.

Not as expected was what happened next. A lot of people (including us) thought Blagojevich would file another lawsuit, this time challenging JCAR’s right to refuse his edict. He didn’t. Instead, Blagojevich simply ignored JCAR and expanded the program anyway.

Last week, though, a coalition of business groups did file a lawsuit, trying to get the courts to stop the governor. The lawsuit contends that what Blagojevich did was unconstitutional and will force the state to pay hundreds of millions of dollars for something never approved by the General Assembly.

Blagojevich responded that the lawsuit was filed by Republicans bent on taking health care away from deserving people. Yep, that’s the issue, not a governor run amok.

*The new lawsuit was filed in Sangamon County. It was assigned to Circuit Judge LEO ZAPPA. Zappa is also the judge for the special sessions lawsuit.

Is there such a thing as combat pay for judges?

*The special sessions lawsuit is the one where Blagojevich wants the courts to decree that the General Assembly must meet in special session on the exact day and at the exact time set by the governor. House Speaker MICHAEL MADIGAN, D-Chicago, has different ideas about that.

A hearing on the case was scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Monday. It’s now been moved to Dec. 17 at the same time.

This is the third time in about a month that a scheduled hearing on the special sessions lawsuit has been postponed. Two separate hearings were scheduled in November, and neither of them happened. After the second was rescheduled, Madigan’s office said it was because Blagojevich’s lawyers wanted a delay. Blagojevich’s office said Madigan’s lawyers wanted the postponement. In other words, they don’t agree on who’s stalling. Go figure.

We mention this only because the last time a hearing in the case actually did occur, Zappa expressed frustration with the slow pace of the proceedings. He urged the parties to speed things up. That was in October.

Apparently the lawyers don’t adhere to the old notion that when a judge urges you to do something, it’s a good idea to do it.

*Bye, bye birdie.

The dead bird – variously described as a pigeon, a starling or a grackle – that’s been stuck in the anti-bird netting near a main Capitol entrance since last summer is now gone. Secretary of state maintenance crews managed to get the bird out without damaging the netting, a nifty trick given where the bird was.

A SOS spokesman said the bird was removed “once it came to our attention.’’ It was there so long, we kind of miss it.