Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The art of compromise

Gov. Rod Blagojevich attempted to execute another power play to make House Speaker Michael Madigan seem like the problem in state government. The governor charges the speaker and his staff with violating the state constitution for delaying action on the governor’s budget cuts. The good news is that one separate compromise allowed the state to distribute overdue payments to hospitals. The bad news is who knows whether the political maneuvering will ever stop long enough for the four legislative leaders and the governor to compromise on a capital budget and mass transit subsidies.

The governor sues again
Blagojevich sued Madigan two weeks ago in hopes that the courts would rule that the speaker has to call special sessions at the date and time specified by the governor. Blagojevich is now suing Madigan’s House clerk, Mark Mahoney. The lawsuit, filed in Sangamon County court September 11, charges that the clerk should have entered the governor’s budget vetoes into public record as soon as the House met for session September 4.

Part of the reason the vetoes weren’t recorded then is because Madigan scheduled 19 budget hearings across the state to discuss “Blagojevich’s budget savagery.” The hearings also are designed to build support for overriding those vetoes. Steve Brown, the speaker’s spokesman, said the same about this lawsuit as he said about the suit against Madigan. “This is just a waste of resources and really no merit to the case at all. And the hearings will continue.”

The administration tried to defend the governor’s budget cuts before they were ripped to shreds by angry constituents. Agency directors held press conferences yesterday in Decatur, Marion and Kankakee, the first three sites of Madigan’s budget hearings. “They were in the same areas the House hearings are in because we feel it’s important to make sure these areas have the facts,” said Rebecca Rausch, the governor’s spokeswoman, in an e-mail.

The location of the hearings relate to the budget cuts that canned projects sought by House Democrats who have at some point bucked the administration’s priorities. For instance, Kankakee is represented by Democratic Rep. Lisa Dugan of Bradley. She requested grants for local fire and police departments to buy and update equipment, for sexual assault centers in Iroquois and Kankakee counties and for a domestic violence shelter. “He cut all of mine and considered it nonessential,” she said this morning. Why? “The Democratic House members lost everything that they requested, and I’m assuming that it’s for the reason that most of us believe, that is because unfortunately, the governor doesn’t like our stand on wanting to compromise on his health care plan.”

Dugan laughed out loud when asked about the governor suing the House clerk. “This is a sad state of affairs in the state of Illinois, and the governor seems to just want to continue to make it worse.”

So the governor is punishing people who don’t want to compromise on his health care plan, but lawmakers rejected his health care plan because the governor wouldn’t compromise on the funding source. We're running in circles following these disagreements. Brown, Madigan’s spokesman, blames the governor for not compromising. “He fails to persuade anybody to accept his point of view and refuses to accept a more reality-based proposal. Not a whole lot you can do about that.”

I know the feeling. There’s not a lot we can do about the sideshows going on around the state with little action in Springfield. And when action does return to the Capitol October 2 for the fall veto session, we’ll witness a series of shows about the budget overrides, a capital budget and transportation subsidies. The House is expected to have enough votes to override at least some of the governor's budget cuts, but who knows whether they'll have a chance in the Senate. And who knows whether the four caucuses will be able to compromise on a funding source — four new casinos, one new casino, no new casinos — to finance road and school construction projects. And who knows whether lawmakers are willing to stick their necks out by voting for a mass transit plan that raises taxes while knowing the governor will veto it. That would require the four caucuses, again, to compromise and agree to override his veto.

Hynes: Compromise minimizes damage for hospitals
Hospitals around the state have been waiting for reimbursements for the cost of caring for poor and uninsured patients. The reimbursements come through a hospital assessment program, where hospitals pay a tax and then get back $3.6 billion from the federal government over three years. A series of missteps and political infighting delayed the payments due to hospitals in March. In a rare act of teamwork, Illinois’ constitutional offices recently agreed to get an immediate infusion of cash through short-term borrowing. That cash will allow the state to disburse half of the $1.2 billion due to hospitals.

“Through cooperation of the governor’s office, the attorney general’s office, the treasurer and the comptroller, we’re going to be able to minimize the damage,” said Comptroller Dan Hynes. “But it still was unfortunate that it happened the way it did.”

The federal reimbursement and assessment will allow the loan to be repaid within the month, said Sen. Jeff Schoenberg, an Evanston Democrat and architect of the assessment plan. The delay, however, means the state can’t disburse the next $600 million installment until the General Assembly comes back to Springfield to approve the new spending authority. Schoenberg adds that it’s also unfortunate that the delay could taint the state’s opportunity to get federal approval for another assessment program when the current one expires after 2008. “It’s not far fetched for the federal regulators at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to question whether Illinois actually needs the money so badly if the state is taking so long to disburse the money once it receives federal approval,” he said.

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