Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Two days to go

Democrats have Wednesday and Thursday to agree on a state budget before Republicans gain more legislative power, but it doesn’t look good. Democratic leaders aren’t changing their tunes. I’d have to check my tape, but it’s almost as if they all repeated Monday’s speeches after breaking from budget negotiations. The only thing that changed is that Gov. Rod Blagojevich sent his Deputy Gov. Sheila Nix to give a speech to the media, and she repeated, and I mean repeated multiple times, the governor’s finger-pointing: House Democrats need to propose their own budget or risk pushing the legislature into overtime session and empowering Republicans who want to cut social services.

Republicans want a state budget that doesn’t rely on tax increases and that avoids spending more than last year, but House Minority Leader Tom Cross said his caucus isn’t interested in cutting services. “We believe the best way out of here, if we ever have an opportunity to be at the table, is you live within your means and you don’t raise taxes,” he said shortly after the Democratic leaders left the budget meeting in the governor’s Statehouse office.

House Speaker Michael Madigan came out of the budget meeting to say he didn’t get answers about his concerns, and his caucus still prioritizes new money for education and school and road construction. And, as before, he said closing corporate loopholes and limited gaming expansion has more support in the House. But we could find out which tax breaks the House Dems are willing to close after their Wednesday morning caucus. The only other glimpse of compromise is that Madigan said he’s not ruling anything out in regards to health care, which the governor demands in a state budget. But, Madigan closed with, “Obviously there’s two different views as to how much money might be available to pay for the budget.”

Senate President Emil Jones Jr. did his best to dodge reporters’ questions by heading straight from the governor’s office to the elevator, but he had time to slip in one dig of the House speaker: “There’s no votes in my caucus for [only expanding positions at existing casinos], so we don’t have anything. I wish the speaker had brought in a proposal. We did last week, but all he brings in is surveys.”

If Democrats can’t agree and Republicans do get a say, there will be a lot of pressure for lawmakers to scale back their wish lists and expand gaming positions within existing casinos to pay for a construction bill. Cross is ready to go with the House GOP proposal, which has Madigan’s approval. “In the past, all of these bills have gotten too heavy, they’ve gotten weighted down, people have wanted too much,” Cross said. “This is a bill we think can pass both chambers, and I would hope that the governor would sign it.”

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