Doug Finke: An olive branch ... or a thistle?

Doug Finke

*An olive branch or a thistle?

Things have been pretty, um, tense between Senate President EMIL JONES, D-Chicago, and House Speaker MICHAEL MADIGAN, D-Chicago, for a long time. It may have bottomed out last late last summer, after Gov. ROD BLAGOJEVICH cut $50 million in pet projects (most of you know it as pork) that was put in the state budget by House Democrats. Blagojevich said the state couldn’t afford it. However, he didn’t cut the pork projects put in the budget by Senate Democrats, mainly because Jones was the governor’s only consistent ally through last year’s session.

Anyway, Madigan thought he had an agreement with Jones that the Senate would vote to restore the money. The Senate didn’t, and Madigan is still furious about it.

Last week, Senate Democrats pushed through a bill that restores the House projects. Several Democrats said they viewed it as extending a peace offering to Madigan in hopes of avoiding another lengthy overtime session.

That’s great, but they put the House project money in the same bill as money to expand state health care programs. As you know, Blagojevich has tried for more than a year without success to get lawmakers to go along with that idea. If Madigan wants the project money, he also has to give Blagojevich something he wants.

Beyond that, the Senate Democrats want to pay for all of this by letting Blagojevich grab $530 million from restricted state accounts. Which accounts is left up to the governor, who doesn’t enjoy a high level of trust among House Democrats.

All of which adds up to more games being played in the Capitol while the state’s financial condition continues to deteriorate. Apparently it’s going to take some kind of full-blown meltdown for these guys to get over their personal differences and act like statesmen.

*Just one more thought: The Blagojevich administration says the state is running a $750 million deficit in the current budget. In other words, the budget authorized a certain amount of spending, but cash isn’t coming in the door fast enough to pay for all of it.

The Senate Democrats don’t think the deficit is that large, putting it at closer to $400 million. But whether it’s $750 million or $400 million, it’s still a deficit. Does it make any sense to authorize even more spending when you’re running a deficit?

*The Illinois Republican Party put out a press released emblazoned with “Statement from Illinois Republican Party Chairman Andy McKenna on the House passage of the Recall Amendment.”

Among other things, Mr. McKenna is quoted as saying he hopes “the Senate will follow course and pass this legislation.”

The Republicans engaged in a little wishful thinking. The House didn’t pass the recall amendment. All the House did last week is approve a change in the amendment that took judges out of the mix of officials who can be recalled. Oops.

The recall amendment is a proposed change in the state Constitution that will allow voters to recall some elected officials, including the governor. In fact, the idea of tossing Blagojevich out of office is the only reason this amendment has any legs at all. That much has been acknowledged by the amendment’s chief sponsor, Rep. JACK FRANKS, D-Woodstock, a frequent Blagojevich critic.

The thing will come up for a final vote in the House next week. It still has to be approved by the Senate before it can get on the ballot. Guess the chances of that happening in a chamber headed by Blagojevich ally Jones. Your choices are between slim and none.

*The Blagojevich administration was at its stonewalling best last week.

A House committee chaired by Franks wanted to get more information about a $1 million grant that was supposed to help a burned-out church in Chicago rebuild, ended up in the hands of a private school that isn’t currently operating which used it to buy condo office space in downtown Chicago.

Franks invited several administration officials to the hearing to answer questions. Only Deputy Governor LOUANNER PETERS showed up, and she spent the morning basically saying she didn’t know anything about the issue.

Now really, did anyone, including Franks, really think this outfit would send anyone who could actually answer questions?