Monday, June 04, 2007

There's a first time for everything

News flash: Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his senior staff want to be helpful. Deputy Gov. Sheila Nix held a Statehouse press conference Monday to announce the governor wants to invite all four legislative leaders, including Republicans, to weekly budget meetings. The first meeting scheduled for Tuesday would be the first time the governor has met with all four legislative leaders this session.

Nix repeatedly said the governor was “flexible” and “willing to compromise,” but she had a warning for both chambers: “The General Assembly does need to begin to start passing elements of a budget that the governor can sign.” She added, “The General Assembly needs to take action, not just engage in a three-day work week without progress.” She called the House schedule “back-loaded” because the chamber plans to hold session Tuesday through Thursday each week until the last week of June, when lawmakers could be in session Monday through Saturday.

The governor wants to meet with the four tops — Speaker Michael Madigan and Minority Leader Tom Cross in the House, and President Emil Jones Jr. and Minority Leader Frank Watson in the Senate — at the start of every week. And at the end of each week, Nix said the administration would available to meet with any of the caucuses to go over questions, numbers or concerns.

So far, Republican leaders Cross and Watson plan to attend Tuesday’s leaders’ meeting. “We’ve been waiting since January, so we’ll be there,” said Cross’ spokesman, David Dring. Watson’s spokeswoman, Patty Schuh, said Watson “absolutely” would attend and that “he’s looking forward to putting together a responsible budget for the coming fiscal year.” We’ll include Democratic leaders’ responses as we get them.

After her speech, Nix answered some questions from reporters but dodged others, including whether the governor would sign a limited-growth budget approved but stalled in the House. She and the senior staff immediately receded into the governor’s Statehouse office when reporters started asking about Sen. Mike Jacobs, the East Moline Democrat. He lashed out last week about feeling intimidated by Blagojevich after Jacobs cast a “no” vote for the governor’s health insurance plan. (See our June 1 blog.)

Blagojevich’s spokeswoman Rebecca Raush said after the press conference that she couldn’t speak to whether the governor would sign some of the budget pieces that already landed on his desk. Specifically, both chambers sent him a measure creating $300 million in revenue from ending some corporate tax breaks. They also sent him a $1.4 billion supplemental budget that would give more than $1 billion to hospitals caring for Medicaid patients and more than $1 million for lawmakers, judges and executive pay raises. It also includes more than $7 million for Court of Claims cases and payments to military families who lost a soldier in active duty.

Big picture: The limited-growth budget that’s stalled in the House (because it’s being held hostage until electricity rate relief happens) would rely on less than $800 million natural revenue growth, $300 million in “corporate loophole” closings with a construction program paid for by gaming expansion. A House committee is scheduled to consider the four-boat gaming expansion Wednesday morning. The Senate recently approved the measure.

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