Thursday, November 29, 2007

The 12th month

The Illinois House is working on a plan to expand gaming as a way to pay for a long-awaited infrastructure projects around the state. That plan is highly anticipated because it has potential to unlock the entire, gridlocked legislation session of 2007. Downstate lawmakers say they won't vote to subsidize Chicago-area mass transit until a statewide capital plan materializes.

But while gaming negotiators say there are only a few issues to work out before a gaming bill comes through, there’s another set of negotiations that could potentially further delay an actual deal. As spelled out by Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat and House Gaming Committee chair, Thursday, the challenge is never ending: “So there’s going to be $X billion in capital. What’s on the list? Who gets what? When do they get it? How do they get it? What’s the priority? How do you make sure that people get what they’ve been promised?”

Once those questions are answered, there’s still the question of whether those plans would have any future in the Senate. Lang said after Thursday’s special session that he didn’t know.

Those types of incremental steps have drawn out the entire session, all 12 month’s worth. Yes, Gov. Rod Blagojevich again threatened to call state lawmakers into special sessions throughout December if they can’t agree on how to subsidize Chicago-area mass transit and finance the statewide infrastructure plan. “There is the possibility we could have special sessions every day as we get closer and closer to Christmas,” Blagojevich said outside his Capitol office Thursday afternoon. December marks the seventh month of overtime session.

House Speaker Michael Madigan told his members to expect a four-day notice if they were to be called back to Springfield in December.

If the governor does resort to calling special sessions, there’s a chance lawmakers would simply “gavel in” and “gavel out,” or convene and then adjourn without doing any actual business until a deal is made. That’s been the case in many of the 18 special sessions so far this year. The governor’s office says at least they’re in the same building and more likely to meet. “They’ve made little noticeable progress over the past several weeks when they were not in session,” said Abby Ottenhoff, Blagojevich’s spokeswoman, in an e-mail. “When they are in session, they are at least talking and working toward a solution.”

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

No action sets the stage for another show

Compromise would be a welcomed word during this 6th month of overtime session, but Wednesday’s special session — the 17th called by Gov. Rod Blagojevich this year — exemplified the “you show me yours, I’ll show you mine” game played by legislative leaders and caucuses, said Rep. Bob Molaro, a Chicago Democrat. He provided comic relief with a candid and blunt analysis during a committee hearing Wednesday night.

The daily news is that the House shot down a mass transit plan that was backed by the governor and drafted by House Republicans. It was altered by House Democrats, and House Speaker Michael Madigan urged lawmakers to support it as an “act of compromise.” But the bigger picture is that the mass transit plan was doomed from the start. By letting it die in the House, the speaker demonstrated that yet another one of the governor’s plans failed.

It’s all come down to two issues: 1) How to save Chicago-area mass transit from cutting services and raising fares and 2) how to finance an infrastructure program for roads, bridges and schools statewide.

“There’s a lack of trust on many fronts,” said Sen. John Sullivan, a Rushville Democrat. He was one of nine senators who reiterated Wednesday that he wouldn’t vote for a mass transit plan without a capital plan. “We need an assurance that both of these issues will be addressed, and the only way we see to do that is if they’re done at the same time.”

Madigan said he’s continuing to negotiate on a capital plan, which would rely on gaming expansion to pay for the bonds. But he said he refuses to tie gaming to mass transit. On the other hand, once a gaming-for-capital plan drops, downstate members of both political parties would be more likely to approve a mass transit plan.

While Madigan said he was “disappointed” Wednesday night, the failure of the "compromise" plan could revive another measure that the speaker prefers, Rep. Julie Hamos’ measure. It previously failed but is preferred by Madigan for its “regional approach” with a sales tax increase in the Chicago area, as opposed to the compromise plan that would have taken money from the state’s general revenue from the sales tax on gas.

Hamos’ measure was framed as the lesser of two evils in debate Wednesday night — Molaro joked that it was “the greatest bill that never passed" — but the governor repeatedly vowed to veto the measure because it raises general taxes. Hamos pointed out, however, that lawmakers will have to make some tough votes whether they vote to save mass transit by increasing the sales taxes in Chicago or by diverting general revenue from the sales tax on gas.

I’ve given up on timetables and deadlines for legislative action, but pressure points will start to pop in December if lawmakers don’t deal with at least mass transit. Besides risking angering Chicago-area voters who would be affected by fare increases, lawmakers from all parts of the state risk being stuck in Springfield during the thick of campaign season due to the early primary election, February 5.

Lawmakers return to the Statehouse Thursday, when the governor called another special session Thursday to focus on mass transit funding with a capital plan.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Mass transit compromise begs questions

Two major questions remain unanswered after House Speaker Michael Madigan issued a letter pledging support for a mass transit compromise. The plan would prevent drastic service cuts in the Chicago area and boost funding for downstate services (it would increase the state assistance for downstate transit agencies from 55 percent of operating costs to 70 percent. See my November article for more on that).

Hot-button questions for Wednesday’s special session:

1) Madigan agreed to the general idea of diverting the state’s portion of the sales tax on gasoline in Cook County to meet the region’s transit needs, but here's the question: How will the state plug the estimated $385 million hole in the general revenue fund, which is like the state’s main checkbook?

2) How likely are downstate lawmakers to support this newfound compromise if it isn’t coupled with a long-awaited capital plan to address mass transit, roads, bridges and schools?

Madigan’s letter cited a “genuine crisis,” and said, “This compromise will put an end to the piecemeal cash infusions, months of anxiety for transit riders and workers, and the incessant, and unfortunate, legislative drama that has surrounded this issue for the past several months.”

That would be the day, but the compromise will include changes and will open the door for more troublesome negotiations in the future.

According to Madigan, the House will advance the legislation supported by Gov. Rod Blagojevich and House Minority Leader Tom Cross, but it’ll include amendments. The speaker vowed those changes would not increase the general sales tax in the Chicago region or allow the Chicago City Council raise its real estate transfer tax, as proposed in Rep. Julie Hamos’ legislation. Blagojevich opposes that plan. According to the letter, the compromise legislation will include such pension reforms as requiring higher employee contributions, increasing the retirement age and limiting some health care benefits.

As far as plugging the hole in the state’s general fund, Madigan’s spokesman, Steve Brown, mentioned the governor’s proposal to end some corporate tax breaks. “The speaker has been supportive of closing corporate loopholes in the past,” Brown said. “I suspect it’ll be something that will be addressed down the road. I don’t envision that being addressed this week.” He said the state Constitution limits the legislature to discussing a specific topic designated by the special session.

According to Cross’ spokesman, David Dring, the House Republican Caucus perceives Madigan’s letter as a positive step, but members hope the speaker won’t stop working with them on a capital plan. Dring said the House GOP Caucus also will discuss Wednesday how members feel about ways to plug the general revenue hole. Previous ideas have included increasing the tax on cigarettes, which Dring said wasn’t so popular. But there’s also transferring money from other state funds or slightly increasing fares for the CTA, Metra and Pace services.

Either way, Wednesday could generate more questions than answers.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Mass transit special session

Lawmakers will return to Springfield November 28 to focus on mass transit as required by Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s proclamation of another special session Monday, but Republican leaders aren’t happy about it.

Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson said Monday afternoon, “I have no idea what this is about.” Watson said that the effort has been focused on a compromise plan to fund road and school construction projects, which some downstate lawmakers said is necessary for them to support a Chicago-area mass transit deal. “For [the governor] to call a special session dealing with mass transit and mass transit only is a troubling sign — because my attitude is we’re not going to deal with just mass transit. Capital has to be a part of this,” Watson said. “And I’m disappointed that if he’s going to call a special session, let’s deal with the whole package instead of just one or the other.”

According to House Minority Leader Tom Cross, he, Watson and House Speaker Michael Madigan were already scheduled to meet in Springfield two days next week. “We’ve got a lot of work to do on capital bill, but we’re slowly but surely I think moving forward,” Cross said.

The governor said in his letter to the General Assembly that he supports legislation that would “redirect revenue” from the Chicago-area sales tax on gasoline to the Regional Transportation Authority. “It does not raise taxes. It redirects them,” Blagojevich wrote. He added that the gas tax revenue would be replaced by “closing corporate loopholes,” or ending certain corporate tax credits.

Watson said he opposes that idea, saying such neighboring states as Indiana already benefit from Illinois’ tax policy. “These kinds of loopholes he talks about closing aren’t tax loopholes — these are incentives in many cases.”

The governor’s letter suggests there’s room for negotiation, but that’s unlikely given his opposition to the plan backed by Madigan. Blagojevich wrote, “I am open to other ideas so long as it is not another t ax increase on people.” That still rules out the proposal sponsored by Democratic Rep. Julie Hamos of Evanston that narrowly failed over the summer and that would have raised Chicago-area sales taxes and real estate transfer taxes to aid mass transit.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Time for Plan C

Scooting around the Illinois General Assembly didn’t work this time for Gov. Rod Blagojevich. A bipartisan legislative committee shot down his emergency plan to expand state-sponsored health insurance to 147,000 Illinois adults Tuesday. The rule would have covered those adults who make up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $82,000 for a family of four. The committee voted 9-2 to reject and suspend that emergency rule on the grounds that it was too broad, didn’t warrant an emergency and bypassed the legislative process.

The governor did try to work such legislation through the General Assembly this summer, but the measure hasn’t gone anywhere since July. So instead, the Blagojevich Administration tried expanding the program through the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, a 12-member committee with an equal number of Democrats and Republicans.

Two of the GOP committee members — Rep. Brent Hasssert of Romeoville and Rep. Rosemary Mulligan of Des Plaines — supported the governor’s emergency ruling. Nine others rejected it. Sen. James Clayborne of Belleville was absent.

But the rejection came with a recommendation. In its ruling, the committee said one part of the governor’s proposal does warrant emergency action in light of federal rule changes that will kick 15,000 to 20,000 adults off of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program next year. “We said in our recommendation that if they would simply issue a new emergency rule that just dealt with SCHIP, we would all support that,” said Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat. “The department flack refused to do it, and so you have to wonder if they really feel any part of it is an emergency.”

As for the administration’s next step, Department of Healthcare and Family Services spokeswoman Ruth Igoe would only say the department is “reviewing our options and timelines available to us.” She did add that immediate action is warranted. “Our staff noted [Tuesday] that health care is an emergency for a lot of people in Illinois, and we believe this was an emergency. And we believe we have the authority to provide health care for these people. But at this point, we’re reviewing our options and the timelines available to us.”

The administration does have a fallback. It filed the same proposal as a regular rule, but that process takes a lot longer because it requires 45 days for public comment and another 45 days for JCAR review.

Lang said the committee will review that proposal, too, but the governor can’t keep trying to spend millions on new health care programs without legislative oversight. “While we all support a better health care system, we have something under our Constitution called the Illinois General Assembly. If governor wants to continue to try to bypass the legislative process in his effort to create a new health care system for Illinois, I think he’s got some real problems ahead of him.”

According to the department, expanding the state’s FamilyCare program to cover those 147,000 adults would cost about $43 million for this fiscal year, which ends in June 2008. Those costs were disputed by Rep. John Fritchey, a Chicago Democrat who also sits on JCAR. See the Gatehouse story from November 10.

And see more background in my October article, “Booster Shot?”.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Medical malpractice returns

Consider a can of worms reopened. A Cook County Circuit Court judge struck down a state law limiting the amount patients can receive in cases alleging medical malpractice. Currently, the law caps jury awards for pain and suffering at $500,000 for doctors and $1 million for hospitals.

In Tuesday’s ruling, Judge Diane Larsen says the state’s 2005 medical malpractice law is unconstitutional because it violates the separation of powers and patients’ rights. “The basic argument is that it’s the judicial system that gets to decide what counts as an acceptable remedy and that the legislature is invading that province by enacting a cap,” says Professor David Hyman at the University of Illinois Law School, where he teaches civil procedure and health care regulation.

The ruling does not negate the state law. But it does open the door for the issue to make its way to the Illinois Supreme Court, which could overturn the law and has done so twice before with caps on damages in a broader sense.

State Sen. Susan Garret, a Lake Forest Democrat and original sponsor of the 2005 law, said she was a little surprised by the ruling. “When we crafted this legislation, I was under the assumption that it had passed constitutional muster.”

Then again, she said most physicians anticipated the court challenge. “So, for some it’ll be disappointing. For some it’ll be an opportunity to say, ‘We told you so.’ But I think we have to abet this and make sure it goes through the process.”

The 2005 debate over “med mal” spanned more than a year and posed trial lawyers against medical groups and the insurance industry, as well as Democrats against Republicans, in aggressive lobbying campaigns. For background, see an article I wrote in 2004.

The debate is just as polarizing today as it was then, demonstrated by the immediate and opposing statements released after the court ruling Tuesday. The Illinois Trial Lawyers Association applauds the judge’s decision and slams “record profits of insurance companies” as the problem fueling rising medical malpractice premiums. “One thing is clear: Our state constitution does not allow those who have been most seriously injured as a result of medical negligence to have their rights taken away in order to give bonuses to insurance companies,” association president Bruce Kohen
said in a statement.

The Illinois State Medical Society and ISMIE Mutual Insurance Company, the state’s largest medical insurer that’s owned and operated by doctors, backed the 2005 “caps” legislation and opposed the judge’s decision. “This is only ‘round one’ in the battle to uphold these reforms, which have been crucial in slowing the number of doctors fleeing our state and helping in the recruitment of specialists,” said Dr. Rodney Osborn, medical society president. “Getting rid of the 2005 medical litigation reforms now would be like benching your starting lineup in the toughest game of the season. We can’t afford to forfeit patients’ access to care.”

In April, ISMIE announced an $18.4 million dividends program for policyholders because of the company’s improved financial picture after the caps on non-economic damages became law.

The Illinois Hospital Association agrees with the doctors and still uses the word “crisis” to describe the effect of high malpractice insurance premiums that it says deter doctors from practicing in Illinois. “This comprehensive law is helping restore predictability to Illinois’ broken liability system that has been driving up costs for hospitals and physicians to unsustainable levels and that has jeopardized the state’s health care system,” wrote Ken Robbins, association president, in a statement.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

"Tings are OK"

That's House Speaker Michael Madigan using his best Chicago accent to jokingly gauge the progress of leaders’ meeting with Gov. Rod Blagojevich Tuesday in Springfield to discuss the expansion of gaming for new revenue. Turning on the serious tone, Madigan said, “We had a good meeting, and it appears that we’re making progress. Not everything is resolved. There are differences, which I’m not going to get into.”

The four leaders of both parties met with Blagojevich in the Statehouse Tuesday afternoon and all reported progress, although they wouldn’t talk specifics. And it may take more than the seven to 10 days originally said to be the timeline for agreeing on how much to expand gaming and how to pay for Chicago mass transit, statewide construction projects and education.

The proposals on the table but not quite agreed upon include:
- A land-based casino owned by the city of Chicago, although they have to nail down a way to share the revenue between the city and the state
- One riverboat elsewhere in the state, although there’s no indication where that second boat would go
- Slots at horseracing tracks, although they aren’t releasing a number of new positions that would be allowed
- An independent gaming board, desired by House Speaker Michael Madigan, House Minority Leader Tom Cross and Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson, although it has some opposition or concerns about who would appoint the new gaming board members
- A 70-30 split of the revenue — 70 percent of the new gaming revenue would pay for road and school construction, while 30 percent would provide new education funding per Senate President Emil Jones Jr.’s desire, although the leaders haven’t yet agreed on how much revenue would be generated in the first place

Regarding the split of money, Watson said, “The bigger the capital bill, the better, as far as I’m concerned, but I’m not opposed to the 30 percent that’s being allocated to education.”

He also said he could vote for slots at the tracks, but added, “I’m not sure I’ve got members who can. That’s the biggest problem.”

And the revised timeline, per Watson, is that seven to 10 days may have been the original goal, but “I think we’re talking more time than that.”

The leaders scheduled a telephone conference for Thursday.

George Ryan reports to jail Wednesday

Former Gov. George Ryan and friend Lawrence Warner are ordered to report to federal prison Wednesday after the U.S. Supreme Court denied their plea to remain free while trying to appeal their 2006 corruption conviction before the nation’s highest court. Ryan will start his 6 ½-year prison sentence in a federal facility near Oxford, Wis., while Warner will start his 3 ½-year sentence in Colorado. They both remained free for more than a year-and-a-half after being convicted for racketeering and fraud for using public office for private gain during Ryan’s years as secretary of state (1991 to 1999) and as governor (1999 to 2003).

One day prior, the U.S. Department of Justice’s solicitor general thought Ryan and Warner should not remain free pending an appeal to the Supreme Court.

Last month, a full panel of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that they would not receive a retrial.

Former Gov. James Thompson, Ryan’s lawyer, responded to the Supreme Court's denial Tuesday in a Chicago press conference (posted on the Web). He said that the defense team is disappointed, but Ryan will report to jail as ordered.

“We knew the petition for bail was a long-shot,” Thompson said. “No Supreme Court justice has granted bail under the provisions of the Bail Reform Act for over 30 years. So, obviously, this was always a likely outcome.

“We are exerting, as we do for any client of Winston & Strawn, every effort on Gov. Ryan’s behalf. And we file an appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States on the merits of his conviction.”

Friday, November 02, 2007

The $27 million deal

The end of the seemingly endless legislative session could be near if all goes by Thursday night’s seven-to-10-day promise. It started when Chicago-area mass transit officials announced a temporary budget solution that averts a “doomsday” scenario that would have terminated 600 workers and drastically increased fares on Sunday. The “solution” was a fiasco that didn’t peak until 3 p.m. Friday when the federal government approved a plan announced by Gov. Rod Blagojevich just hours before. But it’s not just a Chicago-area issue. The budget fix, even if only temporary, has statewide importance because it opens the door for a much-delayed agreement between the state’s top legislative leaders and the governor on long-awaited plans to fund road and school construction projects across the state.

Jim Reilly, chairman of the Regional Transportation Authority in northeastern Illinois, said the federal government had to approve the plan to divert $27 million in federal capital dollars to cover the agency’s operating expenses. The grant — not a loan — is supposed to be enough for the RTA, the Chicago Transit Authority and suburban Pace bus services to operate through the end of the year.

According to Blagojevich, the diversion of federal capital dollars for operating costs has been done in the past. Blagojevich said he plans to replace those federal funds with available state capital bond money. “By replacing converted federal capital money with state capital money, there will be no loss to either CTA or Pace’s capital plan,” he wrote in a release before talking to reporters outside of his Statehouse office.

Ron Huberman, executive director of the Chicago Transit Authority, said at the Capitol that the scheme does avert a doomsday scenario, but it doesn’t solve the structural deficit that plagues the agency’s pension system and angers its union workers. Chicago Federation of Labor president Dennis Gannon added that the pension problem will only make the mass transit system worse if not addressed in the long term.

Reilly of the RTA said he trusts the legislative leaders to come up with a long-term solution. “I believe that commitment,” he said, crediting House Minority Leader Tom Cross for becoming a mediator of sorts between House Speaker Michael Madigan, the governor and his ally, Senate President Emil Jones Jr., and Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson.

On the House floor, Cross said, “This may not be the best solution, but it’s what is here and now and available, and I support it in the interest of keeping the system running.”

The next step to ending the sixth months of overtime session is to draft an agreed capital program for road and school construction around the state. That, however, involves the expansion of gaming, a contentious and complicated subject. The legislative leaders are on opposite sides of the spectrum in terms of the size and scope of the revenue sought. There’s also disagreement on the spending side. The Senate version approved in September includes money for education and mass transit, neither of which Madigan wants to tie to gaming. Cross bears the burden of ironing out their differences.

“We have a lot to discuss,” he said from the floor. “As far as I’m concerned, what came over from the Senate isn’t what we’re going to work off of. We will start over.”

Cross and Madigan will meet frequently over the next seven to 10 days, but the House and Senate members left Springfield Friday and won’t be called back until the pending gaming and capital plans are ready.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Wait for it ... wait for it ...

The worries of Chicago-area mass transit riders, Illinois public schools and human service providers culminated at the state Capitol Thursday, but they were all put on hold for seven to 10 days. Gov. Rod Blagojevich said Thursday night outside of his Statehouse office that he would announce a short-term plan Friday that would save Chicago-area mass transit from severe cuts in services and in payroll.

In those seven to 10 days, Blagojevich said he and the legislative leaders — three of whom stood next to him Thursday night — would urge the Regional Transportation Authority to avoid cutting Chicagoland mass transit services November 4. He said that’s because he and the Illinois General Assembly could tie up major differences in the capital program for road and school construction financed by a gaming expansion. And tying that up would allow for Republicans and downstate lawmakers to approve a mass transit bill primarily for Chicago, he said.

He was joined by Senate President Emil Jones Jr. and the two Republican leaders, Tom Cross in the House and Frank Watson in the Senate.

Quote Blagojevich: “There’s broad consensus among Senate President Jones, Republican Leader Watson, Republican Leader Cross and myself that the practical reality is that in order to solve the mass transit problem long-term for the Chicagoland area, we need an infrastructure, capital construction program to get the downstate members to vote for a Chicago issue and to get the Republican members to support a Chicago issue.”

The missing force was House Speaker Michael Madigan, who arrived late and left early from the leaders’ meeting. Afterwards, Madigan said little other than that the House would wait to hear the governor’s announcement before voting on the mass transit proposal that would increase the regional sales tax and real estate transfer tax in Cook County and restructure the governance of the Chicago Transit Authority.

“We’re going to wait to hear from the governor to see if he has produced more money for another short-term, one-week to 10-day bailout,” Madigan said before walking away.

Downstairs from the leaders’ meeting, Chicago Transit Authority executive director Ron Huberman told a House committee that the agency can’t risk accepting another short-term solution. But that depends on whether he, as well as the mass transit riders and other service providers waiting for state money, believe the governor’s promise that everything will fall into place within seven to 10 days.

Jones said the RTA and the CTA officials will testify to a Senate committee Friday.

Schools held hostage?
One more issue tangled in this mess is state aid payments for public schools.

School districts across the state are still waiting for increases in state aid payments promised to them when the legislature approved a state budget in August. (They’ve been getting their fiscal year 2007 levels since August.) The piece of legislation needed for the state to distribute the new money — including an increase in per-student spending and an increase in reimbursements for special education teachers — is another victim of the political standoff on capital and mass transit funding.

“Enough is enough.” That was the message delivered by state Rep. Roger Eddy, a Hutsonville Republican, on behalf of fellow House Republicans and school superintendents earlier Thursday in a Statehouse news conference.

Without the legislation to release the new money, Eddy said not only will schools miss out on the promised increased funding, but some districts actually will lose money. The Illinois State Board of Education would have to recalculate general state aid payments using last year’s numbers.

“In fact, 726 school districts, as of today, when the calculation is recalculated, will actually receive less money in state aid payments beginning with the November 10 payment,” Eddy said.

For instance, Jeff Patchett, superintendent of Oblong Community Unit School District 4 in east central Illinois, said that his district, which is already on the federal financial warning list, would lose out on $8,571 in state aid per month without legislative action. If the legislation to implement the payments were approved, then the district’s state aid payments would increase by more than $21,000 per month.

Logistically, the House could vote on one ”budget implementation bill” (a.k.a. BIMP) already approved by the Senate. Instead, the House advanced a new, more comprehensive BIMP bill that Democratic budget negotiator Rep. Gary Hannig of Litchfield said is more in sync with the approved budget than the one approved by the Senate month’s ago.

The House and Senate are back in session Friday, and the leaders are expected to meet again. Jones said the leaders could continue to meet in Springfield and Chicago over the next seven to 10 days. Mass transit riders, school officials and service providers will be holding their breath in the meantime.

Recall the governor?

It’s no secret state Rep. Jack Franks, a Woodstock Democrat, often disagrees with Gov. Rod Blagojevich, also a Democrat. But Franks said Thursday that he’s been so disturbed by the governor’s actions in his first and second terms that he drafted legislation to change the state Constitution to allow voters the ability to recall an elected official after they voted him or her into office.

“I don’t think I would have written it but for what’s going on in Illinois this year,” Franks said at a Statehouse news conference. “You talk about the perfect storm. It’s like this governor is the poster child for recall.”

This comes after the Chicago Tribune asked readers whether they think Illinois voters should be able to remove a public official from office, Blagojevich specifically. The Tribune then published results that showed a majority of the 1,200 readers who responded did support a recall of Blagojevich.

Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn stood by Franks Thursday but would not say he supports the legislation simply to get Blagojevich out of office. Rather, Quinn said he supports, and thinks voters support, the principle of recall as a tool for public accountability. And this year, being a “very disappointing year,” could serve as a vehicle for a grassroots campaign to put the question to voters in November 2008, he said, adding that it’s an ideal time because a presidential election year typically attracts a lot more voters.

In particular, Quinn said he was disappointed by the governor’s proposed gross receipts tax on businesses, the stalled ethics reform and the governor’s lack of leadership on skyrocketing electricity rates after a state law expired.

“This whole year has been so disappointing with the gridlock and the failure to respond to the public interest that I think it underlines the need for having extraordinary tools of democracy, direct democracy, like recall,” Quinn said.

In order for Quinn and Franks to secure a question on the November 2008 ballot, they would have to win approval from three-fifths of both legislative chambers. It also would require six months of public debate before being posed to voters. Three-fifths of voters then would have to say, "Yes, recall the official and elect this person in his or her place."

If it were posed to voters and approved in 2008, then it would take effect in the April 2009 elections. That would be the last year of Blagojevich’s second term. And the lieutenant governor would not necessarily be the person listed on the ballot as the candidate to replace the governor.

Franks said the recall provision would top his legislative agenda in January. “This is a perfect example, this session, why we need to have the ability to remember that the citizens control the government and that we are public servants and not their masters.”