Doug Finke: End of session could mean fireworks
Things have the possibility of getting pretty ugly in the next few days.
The one big, high profile thing the General Assembly has managed to accomplish so far this spring (excluding Rod Blagojevich’s impeachment) is pass the capital bill, $29 billion worth of goodies that will keep on giving to lawmakers for years to come. It was even a bipartisan effort, with Democrats and Republicans coming together long enough to get their long-coveted public works construction program.
Only they don't have it just yet. Gov. Pat Quinn, who wanted the capital program as much as anyone and pushed for it, said Friday he's not going to sign the bill into law until the General Assembly approves a government reform package and also sends him a budget that covers day-to-day state operations in a way that doesn't shortchange needy people.
That's an OK strategy except for a couple of things.
One: The capital bill will eventually become law if Quinn just sits on it and does nothing. To really hurt the capital bill, Quinn would have to veto it and that is unlikely at best.
And two: Quinn said a while back he wouldn't link the capital bill to lawmakers approving other bills. Now it appears he is doing just that, which lawmakers may take as the governor going back on his word. As Quinn should have learned from Blagojevich, when you go back on your word, you've got a world of hurt.
The capital bill once again brought the Hypocrite's Caucus to prominence. The Few, the Proud, the Two-faced.
Lawmakers had to pass three bills to make the capital program go – one to issue bonds, one to raise revenue to pay off those bonds and one that detailed the projects to be built. The bill to raise revenue included authorizing video poker, extending the sales tax to things that are not now taxed, like candy, hiking some vehicle fees and whatnot. Hey, you want new roads and school buildings, you've got to pay for it somehow.
Unless, of course, you are a member of the caucus. They want to be on record as bringing the pork back to their districts, but not for raising the taxes and fees to pay for it.
Membership in the caucus changes with issues. For the capital plan, though, the group consists of 12 senators and 30 representatives. They are the Few, the Proud, the Two-faced. They voted against video poker and the other revenue increases, but all of them were right on board to support the list of building projects. No one in either the House or Senate voted against the spending bill.
It's always fun when a majority of this caucus turn out to be Republicans, people who normally complain about government spending money it doesn't have, but who apparently are willing to look the other way in this case.
There's not enough space here to list the entire caucus. However, if you go to the General Assembly's web page, ilga.gov, and click on the section "bills and resolutions" you can look at how lawmakers voted in the capital plan and hundreds of other bills. For capital, the revenue bill is House Bill 255 and the project list is House Bill 312.
After all of the hoopla this spring over ethics reform, it appears the General Assembly isn't as ready as the public is to see changes in business as usual in Springfield. Instead of bringing transparency to state government, lawmakers seem willing to settle for translucence - they'll do some stuff that will count was "reform," but they're not going to get carried away.
After all that's happened with Blagojevich, if lawmakers don't feel compelled to make sweeping changes now, it will never happen.
On Wednesday, a school band played over the noon hour in the Capitol rotunda.
One selection certainly should have struck a note with lawmakers. It was that tune from the "Wizard of Oz" that's repeated three times in the film and goes by "If I Only Had the Nerve," "If I Only Had a Heart," and, perhaps most famously, "If I Only Had a Brain."
If only those things were in evidence around the Statehouse, this state might not be a half bad place to live.
Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527 email@example.com.