Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Mayor Daley rocks Springfield

Well, not really, but charter public school students from Chicago gave Mayor Richard Daley the star treatment —pictures, screeches and all — when he visited the Capitol Wednesday afternoon. Daley was in Springfield to meet with state lawmakers and to host the annual Taste of Chicago in Springfield. After meeting with each Democratic and Republican leader of both chambers for a brief, and I mean brief, meeting, he spoke to Democratic lawmakers in the afternoon.

“You could have heard a pin drop in that room because he’s that kind of force,” said Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat in the afternoon meeting. Although, he added, “I don’t think we heard anything in that room that was surprising.” He said the mayor is anxious to make sure that education, particularly in Chicago, has a “bigger bite of the apple” and that funding comes through for mass transit and other infrastructure needs.

The governor, the mayor and Senate President Emil Jones Jr. briefly met this evening. When they came out of the governor’s office, they only joked about the Chicago Cubs vs. White Sox baseball rival, not about the $55 billion or more state budget in limbo with less than 12 days left in the scheduled spring session.

In the wake of a dismal House vote opposing the governor’s gross receipts tax proposal, such other revenue ideas as gaming are entering the mix. Lang, the chief sponsor of gaming legislation that would create four casinos in the Chicago area, isn’t giving up on his idea that could generate between $2 billion and $3 billion a year if approved. “The time will come in the not too distant future that we’ll be taking a vote on that legislation, and I think it’ll have a reasonable chance of passing,” he said. He’s tried and failed multiple times before, but he said he thinks “the demise of the gross receipts tax is actually going to be helpful in my effort to pass this.”

By Deanese Williams-Harris
Meanwhile, lawmakers talked about the governor’s attempted ban on violent video games for minors and its cost to the state in legal fees. We wrote about it in our May issue (see page 10).

Bob Greenley, the governor’s deputy chief of staff, and Matt Ryan, the governor’s deputy general counsel, sat in the hot seat as they testified to a House committee that the plaintiff's legal fees amounted to more than $500,000, and multiple state agencies footed the bill.

“How do we raid government agency [funds] to pay for legal fees?” said committee chairman Rep. Jack Franks, a Woodstock Democrat. “We’ve spent over a million dollars on a glorified governor press release.”

Rep. Robert Pritchard, a Sycamore Republican, rehashed a floor debate where legislators argued that the law violated First Amendment rights. In committee, Ryan said a similar measure in Indiana was found unconstitutional before Blagojevich drafted his ban, but the governor pursued it anyway.

Committee members repeatedly said the governor’s office and the attorney general’s office should have been responsible for the legal fees. Greenley said the fees were paid out of a general state fund, which he says is legal.

“It may be legal, but it doesn’t seem to be good policy,” Franks said.

The committee will meet again once the administration submits more information to the committee.

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