\House Speaker Michael Madigan has challenged the governor to produce major budget legislation that will be debated and immediately voted on Thursday afternoon, the first day of a “special session” proclaimed by Gov. Rod Blagojevich last week.
The governor said Friday that the General Assembly would remain in special session until it approved an overdue state budget for the fiscal year that started July 1. He said the first topic of discussion would be state public employee pension reform.
In a letter addressed to the governor and copied to the House members and the media Monday, Madigan and Rep. Jack Franks challenged Blagojevich to detail his proposal to lease the Illinois Lottery as a way to pump billions of dollars into the five public employee pension systems, which have been under-funded for years. Then Madigan plans for the chamber to vote on the proposal, giving the governor a deadline to produce the legislation.
Part of the letter to Blagojevich reads, “It is, therefore, your responsibility to have the necessary legislation drafted and submitted to us in a timely fashion — no later than 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, July 5.”
Another part of the letter rebuts the governor’s public criticism of the lawmakers’ three-day workweek and lack of focus on the budget. It says the Committee of the Whole format would allow maximum participation and media observance, another comment reportedly made by the governor during backdoor budget meetings. The letter goes on to call the governor out on alleged hypocrisy.
“Over the last six months, from the moment our members took office for the 95th General Assembly, and despite your general absence from the State Capitol during most of that time, they have remained ready and available to work with you for the purposes of crafting a fiscal year 2008 budget,” the letter reads.
Franks, a Woodstock Democrat who often vocally disagrees with the governor’s ideas, said he brought up the idea to the speaker after a month of overtime session and closed-door “negotiations” produced nothing but a one-month, bare bones budget. On his cell phone Monday afternoon, Franks said, “Why don’t we try something different? Why don’t we make a transparent process, put it on the House floor, bring the governor in, make him produce bills, let him defend those bills, and then we will vote on them after the legislature has a chance to ask questions?”
Franks held a committee about leasing the Illinois Lottery earlier this spring and said the administration didn’t provide many details back then. “Whenever you have $10 billion on the table. Your antenna’s going to go up,” Franks said. “From what I’ve seen on the merits of the proposal, it doesn’t hold water." Madigan said last month he didn’t think the idea had enough support in his chamber.
If the governor accepts the invitation — we haven’t heard from the governor’s office, yet — the letter says the Committee of the Whole will “last as long as necessary.”
Response from the governor's office: "This is exactly the kind of dialogue and direct involvement from legislators we were hoping for by calling special sessions," Blagojevich spokeswoman Rebecca Rausch said in an e-mail.