Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Baby steps

It’s June 5, five days after the General Assembly missed its deadline to pass a budget, two business days after overtime session started and the first day Democratic and Republican leaders met with Gov. Rod Blagojevich in his Statehouse office to talk about the budget. And no one seemed in a real hurry.

As usual, a slew of reporters waited outside of the governor’s office for an hour and a half to get reaction from the first lawmaker to emerge from the glass doors. The maintenance crew even brought us chairs again. While waiting, we saw lawmakers hanging out, leaning on the rotunda’s brass rail, seeming as if they had no where else to be. Neither the House nor the Senate did much business. They have legislation they can move, but they’re unlikely to act on major spending or revenue plans until there’s an agreed budget. That counteracts the Blagojevich Administration’s repeated criticism that lawmakers should be in session every day of the week until a budget passes and before state agencies start to shut down July 1 from lack of a new state spending authority.

In other words, nothing’s advancing. The leaders aren’t changing their positions. In fact, they keep adding ultimatums.

House Speaker Michael Madigan said Tuesday that the minimal-growth budget already approved by his chamber won’t be released to the Senate until there’s electricity rate relief. He said that relief has to include a rate freeze, although it doesn’t have to be the three-year freeze currently in the House. But Senate President Emil Jones Jr. said he continues to oppose any freeze.

Jones, in line with the governor, said the General Assembly first has to take care of education and health care for everyone. However, that’s excluded from Madigan’s minimal-growth budget.

House Minority Leader Tom Cross, who has gained some political leverage now that overtime measures require some Republican votes for passage, said the meetings were a necessary step — but not exactly a step forward. “It’s part of the process,” he said. “Is it frustrating? Sure. Is it productive? Probably not. But is it something that has to happen. Yeah, I guess it has to happen. Is it a good use of your time? Probably not. But it’s the nature of this beast.”

They’ll take another baby step in a second leaders’ meeting Wednesday.

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