Monday, October 01, 2007

Can he do that?

The House gathered more anecdotal evidence Monday to argue that Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s $470 million in budget cuts hurt the very people he says he wants to help through health care, education and social services. The six-hour hearing didn’t result in a vote. It simply laid the groundwork for the chamber’s expected override the budget cuts Tuesday, but the Senate is not expected to follow suit.

Monday’s House’s committee of the entire chamber is just one more example of a tit-for-tat battle with the governor’s office to see who can make the other entity seem more heartless during this record budget stalemate.

Bigger picture: The core question remains. The governor says he cut nearly $500 million of so-called pork and unnecessary spending to pay for the expansion of health care programs, and the administration’s press releases suggest a simple shift in state dollars. During the hearing, the governor’s office e-mailed a statement by Deputy Gov. Sheila Nix. “Some projects in the budget are worthwhile, and we are interested in seeing some funded — but not at the expense of health care for families and mammograms for women.”

But funding of the programs is not that clear cut. The state’s general revenue fund is a different pot of money than Medicaid dollars for subsidized health care programs. It’s unclear whether the governor would or could transfer money from one pot to the other.

Abby Ottenhoff, the governor’s spokeswoman, responded in an e-mail with this: “The governor has increased the pool of available revenue to cover any additional cost by cutting other less critical spending from the budget." She didn’t respond to a follow-up question requesting clarification about how the governor was increasing the “pool of available revenue” if he’s simply spending down Medicaid dollars.

The House committee, by the way, had just 79 of 118 members present. And much of the testimony repeated what had been said during the past month of public hearings across the state. The larger issue during the next two weeks of the annual fall session will remain a capital budget to fund road and school construction projects and, potentially, mass transit subsidies. Then again, all of those issues could intertwine if a promise to restore the governor’s budget cuts is held out as an incentive for House members to side with the capital program crafted by the governor’s office and Senate President Emil Jones Jr. That plan as approved by the Senate is so far unacceptable to the House.

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