Tuesday, July 10, 2007

No need for Republicans, but what about Democrats?

Despite more lawmakers’ comments that budget talks aren’t getting anywhere, Gov. Rod Blagojevich announced an idea Tuesday night that he thinks could potentially break the nagging budget impasse. But his ideas still require major revenue enhancements, which continue to lack consensus among Democrats, let alone both parties.

Blagojevich isn’t giving up on his beloved universal health care idea or his desired education funding increase — two of many items that have contributed to the gap between his proposed budget and the much smaller version preferred by three of the four legislative leaders. At his Springfield mansion Tuesday night, Blagojevich simply suggested that the education and health care portions of his spending plan be separated from the fiscal year 2008 budget. They would then be packaged with a revenue plan, yet to be determined or agreed upon, and voted on so that the programs would become effective after June 1, 2008. That date is key because it means the legislation creating the programs would only need a simple majority, not the three-fifths majority that currently requires some Republican votes in the House.

Sen. Carol Ronen, a Chicago Democrat and Blagojevich point person in her chamber, stood with the governor after the meeting and said Republicans wouldn’t be needed because a simple majority of Democrats could enact new revenue ideas that would make money available just in time for the programs to start in 2008. But that assumes at least 30 Democrats in the Senate and 60 Democrats in the House would support anywhere from $1 billion to $3 billion in new revenue. That’s not guaranteed. What makes this more questionable is that neither Republicans nor Democrats who support a smaller budget have any incentive to vote for education and health care plans they previously rejected just because the effective date changed.

The only other new information came with the idea that the lawmakers would break away from the rather large budget gatherings in the ballroom of the governor’s mansion and convene in smaller groups, which some GOP members suggested Monday.

Other than that, members said the meeting lacked progress but was full of drama, including the ongoing disagreements about new casinos and horse track subsidies and whether the state should invest in roads and schools before expanding health care and education. And, once again, the governor bashed House Speaker Michael Madigan by saying he hides behind his conservative Republican allies and needs to start acting like a Democrat. Of course, Madigan repeated his criticism of the governor’s “lack of understanding of the severity of the problem, the severity of the gap in understanding between the participants.” He added, “The governor came very close to losing his temper, but I tried to act like a father again. And he made a real nice recovery.”

The House members were told this afternoon that the remainder of July weekend sessions would convene at 9 a.m. Saturdays and 5 p.m. Sundays.

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