Editorial: Governor must stop games with site closures
It was only two weeks ago that employees of many state parks and historic sites, plus patients and workers at many social service agencies across the state, breathed a heavy sigh of relief.
The Illinois Senate, following the lead of the House, had just approved using $221 million from special funds — accounts dedicated to specific purposes but whose funds were unused — to restore cuts made by Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
For those involved with the parks, historic sites and agencies that had been facing closure or severe cutbacks, this was great news. It meant the doomsday scenario they foresaw in Blagojevich’s cuts had been averted.
While the governor signed the bill authorizing taking money out of the special funds, he has not signed a companion bill to authorize dispersing those funds. And while he signed the bill approving the special fund “sweeps,” he has since said that up to $50 million of that money may not be available. Finding out exactly how much is available, Blagojevich’s office said, is up to Comptroller Dan Hynes.
The comptroller’s role is to follow legislation passed by the General Assembly, which it has done in transferring the $221 million from the funds specified in Senate Bill 790.
“We’ve done the same thing we’ve done on every transfer bill,” Hynes spokeswoman Carol Knowles said. “We moved the money. Spending can take place as soon as there is authorization.”
The governor, not the comptroller, has amendatory veto power on legislative issues. If the governor felt there were $50 million worth of defects with the fund sweeps bill, he should have identified them before he signed the bill into law.
Making the governor’s claim even more dubious is the fact that at one time, he had pushed for a far deeper sweep of special funds. In his budget proposal to the General Assembly in the spring, Blagojevich wanted authorization to tap into more than $530 million in special funds.
If Blagojevich at one time saw $530 million of special funds ripe for the taking, how is it that he can’t manage to authorize less than half that amount without a $50 million asterisk?
The bottom line here, we believe, is that the governor once again gets to play with the anxieties of the many people who work for or otherwise depend on the entities for whom SB 790 was supposed to provide relief.
No one seems to know Blagojevich’s motivation on this one. It took a Herculean effort to first bring the House and Senate back to Springfield to OK the fund sweeps. With that accomplished, the governor wants to pass the buck to the comptroller.
“The comptroller is just appalled at the games going on but our hands are tied,” Knowles said.
The governor needs to sign the appropriations bill and then spend the money needed to keep open those state parks and historic sites slated for closure in the coming weeks. He needs to ensure that the private agencies that provide valuable substance abuse treatment and social services can keep serving their patients and clients.
In short, he needs to choose leadership over gamesmanship. The way we see it, it’s never too late to start.