Friday, May 25, 2007

He spoke!

Not about the subpoenas received by his campaign, but Gov. Rod Blagojevich did address the media outside of his Statehouse office about budget negotiations (it's rare, if at all). While the governor said he’s not giving up on his gross receipts tax, the majority of the legislature has. And while he’s accepting gaming as a revenue idea, he’s not accepting a budget without health care.

“Like anything else, if you’re willing to compromise, you’ve got to [accept some] things that you’re really not in love with,” he said in his nearly three minute appearance. “The idea of more gaming is not something that I like, but I’m prepared to accept it if it means every citizen in our state can get access to affordable, quality, comprehensive health care.”

He said he and Senate President Emil Jones Jr. and House Speaker Michael Madigan have made progress. They do seem to be in the same page, but they’re not exactly agreeing on vexing details about where new revenue would go. Still, he said they want to adjourn by the May 31 constitutional deadline. “I feel good about the fact that Senate President Jones, House Speaker Madigan and I agreed [with] one another that we’re going to work in good faith and provide our best efforts to try and finish the budget on time, be willing to compromise and make adjustments so we don’t empower the Republican minority and allow [House Minority Leader Tom Cross and Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson] to cut programs that help people.”

Cross and the House Republicans proposed their own, no-growth budget that doesn't include four new casinos currently being pushed by Democrats. They draw the line at selling 6,000 new positions to existing casinos, a proposal introduced earlier this session. The revenue would be used for a capital program for roads and mass transit, school construction and higher education.

Cross said it’s time for the state to live within its means and use the nearly $1 billion in natural revenue growth to pay compounding state obligations. He proposed fully funding the state pensions out of those funds, eliminating the need to borrow more money. More than $200 million would put into education, and per pupil spending would be raised by $250.

The GOP budget also wouldn't fund $60 million in what Cross called "Democrat pork projects" for the 2008 fiscal year. He couldn't pinpoint the special projects but said some were tacked onto the budget of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

If Senate Democrats had their way, four new casinos would be built around Chicago. Their plan would generate $2.1 billion in the first year and $1.4 billion each year after. Early childhood education, road and school construction projects, depressed areas needing economic development and a fund for horseracing workers would get the money, although the language is fluid and expected to change. An item to give $40 million to Chicago State University, for instance, didn’t bode well with Republicans, and even Democratic Sen. Ira Silverstein of Chicago suggested divvying the money to all state universities. Chicago State University has close ties to the Senate president, whom it calls a “patron saint” (scroll down to the last line of the document).

Right before they left town for the weekend, the Senate easily approved the authority to distribute $1.2 billion, part of which will enact the delayed second year of a federal program that reimburses hospitals for caring for Medicaid patients (we wrote about it in our April 26 blog). The extra spending also will give money to families of soldiers killed in the line of duty.

Both chambers will return for session Monday afternoon.

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