Statehouse insider

Doug Finke

*Gov. PAT QUINN wants to get a capital construction program up and going in the worst way. If he isn’t careful, the worst is exactly what he will get.

Quinn’s fixated on having something on the books by very early in April in order to take advantage of as much of the construction season as possible. The early discussion is a road program that makes sense because road projects are pretty much in a constant state of design and many of them could get started pretty quickly after a program is passed.

The downside of this is that there is no concrete funding mechanism for a highway plan. Quinn doesn’t like a gasoline tax increase, believing it is a “regressive” tax that unfairly hurts low-income drivers. Others, such as Senate President JOHN CULLERTON, D-Chicago, look at the gas tax as a user fee, and that it makes sense to use it for highway construction.

Or maybe they’ll go back to the old idea of gaming expansion that Republicans recommended this week. And won’t that be a grand idea if it comes to pass. Since last spring, the state has sold an unused riverboat license that it expected to get several hundred million for. It didn’t.

Riverboat owners around the state say the indoor smoking ban has absolutely killed their business. Reject their argument if you want, but gambling revenues are way down.

If the state pays for a capital plan with gaming, it’s going to look like a glorified sidewalk-replacement program.

*Did the all-powerful, all-seeing, all-knowing speaker of the Illinois House — MICHAEL MADIGAN, D-Chicago — make a bone-headed mistake in front of the whole chamber? Or was he just toying with Republicans? You be the judge.

It involved one of those parliamentary feuds the House likes to go through on a fairly regular basis. In this case, there was a bill to have a special election for the U.S. Senate seat. The bill is in a House committee, and as far as Madigan is concerned, that’s where it’s going to stay no matter what the rest of the House thinks.

Still, the rules allow the House to vote on whether the bill should be sent to the House floor for everyone to vote on it, regardless of Madigan’s position. Madigan wins approximately 110 percent of these votes. The actual vote is “shall the ruling of the chair (Madigan) be sustained.” If you are with Madigan, you vote “yes.” And Madigan, being with Madigan, votes “yes.”

Until Thursday, that is, when Rep. RON STEPHENS, R-Greenville, noticed that Madigan was voting against Madigan. When Stephens raised the issue, Madigan at first was defensive, implying that Stephens had it wrong.

Then Madigan conceded that Stephens was correct and caught Madigan voting against himself. Madigan congratulated Stephens on his powers of observation and suggested Stephens not try to push the mistake. Stephens quickly agreed.

*Republicans just won’t give up on the idea that a special election should be held for the U.S. Senate seat held by ROLAND BURRIS. They’ve pushed this idea for weeks, and they’ve been blocked at every turn. But so far they’re not ready to cry uncle.

All of this trying without success apparently is getting the better of some people. Like Rep. BILL BLACK, R-Danville, who doesn’t always mince words.

The special election idea came up in a House committee again last week, and once again it was shot down, in no small part because Democrats rejected it. Black had had enough, saying the whole process reminded him of Nuremberg after the fall of Nazi Germany. Many of the Nazi leaders placed on trial defended their actions as only following the orders of superiors. Black viewed the Democrats’ opposition to the special elections as part of the same argument.

OK, but it seems comparing Illinois lawmakers to Nazis might be a little extreme. It also underscores the GOP’s absolutely dire need to come up with something new to complain about.

That’s why Illinois needs a Political Red Cross, an organization that can provide desperately needed relief efforts to a foundering political party. Make emergency donations of ideas or other material to the organization ASAP. Just make sure the words “special election” are not mentioned anywhere.

Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527.