Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Going public

Check out the House Democrats' Web site, and you’ll see three interesting links, all suggesting an emerging trend as House Speaker Michael Madigan releases information to the public in his own, interesting way. He’s usually rather tight-lipped when approached by reporters, but in the last few weeks, he’s written letters that he's also passed out to the press and posted on the Web site.

The newest post publishes the FY07 memorandums of understanding. MOUs basically formalize state money designated for so-called member initiatives, which are pet projects asked for by legislators. The memos are rather vague and don’t name any lawmakers, but they do give a dollar amount. Some initiatives fund pretty important services. For example, Rep. Larry McKeon, a Chicago Democrat, asked for $250,000 for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago to help pay for medications for low-income residents living with HIV and viral hepatitis, which is not currently covered by the state-federal AIDS Drug Assistance Programs. Other member initiatives may be a little more politically charged.

Recall the end of the spring session (see my May 2 blog), when the Latino Caucus gained leverage in budget negotiations by saying members would reject the budget unless their projects were funded. One example is $150,000 for Holy Cross Immaculate Heart of Mary Church for teen pregnancy programs.

In any case, funding everything from after-school programs to street improvements in Chicago’s 13th Ward (of which Speaker Madigan is the Democratic Committeeman) can’t hurt in an election year.

One more note: Construction projects account for the largest dollar amounts, most going to select Chicago colleges:
- Northwestern University: $8 million to finish building a new floor for regenerative medicine in the Robert H. Lurie Medical Research Center.
- DePaul University: $9 million to help build a new science center at the Lincoln Park campus.
- Loyola University Chicago: $8 million for “redevelopment” of the Mundelein Center Skyscraper Building.
- Harry S. Truman College: about $13.4 million to start construction on a new student services center, including a parking structure. “It’s not a done deal, yet,” said Truman spokesman Clifton Daniel. “We’re hopeful. We’re maybe even a little bit excited, but we’re still trying to work out where all the rest of the money is coming from.”

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