Editorial: All sides must give ground for capital bill

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

Wednesday's annual Democratic Party rally at the Illinois State Fair may not seem like an important event in the larger scheme of things. But Democrats run Illinois, and attendance and rhetoric at the ritual can provide a measurement of whether the ongoing discord between them will end anytime soon, which would allow something to get done at the Capitol.

After all, the tone of Gov. Rod Blagojevich and House Speaker Michael Madigan’s relationship was probably set at Democrat Day six years ago when Blagojevich described Madigan’s “arrogance” and Madigan talked about the then-congressman’s alleged “indiscretions,” on which he then refused to elaborate.

Madigan, his daughter, Attorney General Lisa Madigan; Comptroller Dan Hynes; Secretary of State Jesse White; and Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn were all missing from the stage. Given the governor’s unpopularity, it’s no surprise that most of Illinois’ top Democrats would rather hang out in the goat barn than be at a political rally with him.

Blagojevich and his chief ally, Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, turned the rally into a chorus for their new capital construction plan. Blagojevich’s rhetoric was notably turned down, with him urging the House to pass his $25 billion construction plan. He did not mention the speaker’s name. Considering Blagojevich spent most of the August attacking Madigan, it’s a start.

“You’ve got to be willing not to take no for an answer,” the governor said at the rally. “We want to get it done for people now, not after the election. They don’t want to hear excuses.”

Some might say such “excuses” are the details that those who care about responsible governance must work out, such as considering whether the state really has millions in extra fuel tax revenues to fund construction or the merits of leasing a major state asset.

Madigan himself seems to be giving some ground, inching toward the lease idea. He told reporters that his caucus has had two “productive meetings” about leasing the state lottery as a part of a capital program. Leasing the lottery would be a major shift by Madigan, whose chief surrogate, House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, said the idea would be a tough sell just last week.

Whatever the speaker eventually floats will probably be different from the plan desired by Jones and Blagojevich. They also will have to give some ground.

While leasing or selling state assets is not a good long-term solution to the state’s fiscal problems, we could endorse it as part of a capital plan if the legislation includes a specific list of projects.

Greater Springfield should know exactly how much money it is getting and what it will be spent on before the vote. The bill should also include an ironclad mechanism to prevent Blagojevich from reneging on his promises, as he has done so often in the past.

Another proposal that would help is House Bill 5891, sponsored by Rep. Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, and Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock.

That legislation would require projects in capital bills to be fully described, including the name of the member who requests them and the entity that will benefit.

The bill already passed the House on a 109-1 vote. Since April, it has sat in the Senate Rules Committee, where the majority traditionally kills legislation it does not like.

But Sen. Rickey Hendon, D-Chicago, the chairman of the Rules Committee, spoke Tuesday of his new fairness policy and boasted that he has let more bills out of his committee than his predecessors.

Durkin and Franks’ bill would provide accountability on how this sizable pot of public money is spent. Before a capital bill is passed, Hendon should match his words with deeds and send the Durkin-Franks legislation to the floor for a vote.

State Journal-Register