is nearly $750 million in the hole. That is a big budget deficit, even by Illinois standards, but that is not deterring Governor Rod Blagojevich from proposing the biggest infrastructure building program this state has seen in nearly a decade. The mood at the state capital is as frosty as the weather outside. So, Governor Blagojevich is proposing the one thing that may warm every legislator's heart, big spending.
"The idea of a major public works program that puts hundreds of thousands of people to work in every part of Illinois-- what's not to like?" the governor said.
The governor's wish list includes a $300 tax credit for many families with children. He wants to lease the state lottery and finally activate the state's tenth casino license in a bid to bring in billions of dollars in new revenue to pay for a massive building program he calls "Illinois Works." It would provide money for everything from roads to education.
Last year, the legislature slapped Blagojevich with a unanimous defeat of his gross receipts tax on business. Now the governor says he can cut taxes on some businesses by as much as 20 percent.
"After proposing the GRT last year, I can tell you I now have a better appreciation for that old Hank Williams song "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," the governor said. "Needless to say, I'm not asking you to do that again."
The governor's critics -- and there are many -- say a Freddy Fender tune is more fitting, "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights." That is what sums up their last year.
"We have someone who has been divisive, someone who has caused disagreements and confrontation within his own party, and we saw complete lack of leadership last year. He's almost the anti-Obama," said Alexi Giannoulias, (D) Illinois treasurer.
There may be consensus in the capital on the need to break the long-standing stalemate. Mass transit money and other big ticket building projects across the state have traditionally been enough to inspire lawmakers to compromise.
"One way to jump-start that economy is to do a capital build, an infrastructure build. It means more jobs. It means we access federal money, literally billions of dollars," said Rep. Tom Cross, (R) House Republican leader.
"It hasn't gone anywhere in the past, but it does not mean that it cannot go anywhere in the future," said State Sen. Emil Jones, (D) Senate president.
Jones said late Wednesday that he could support a proposal now making its way around the capital that would raise the state's income tax from 3 percent to 5 percent.
One other sidebar: it's always interesting to keep track of just how many times the governor's budget address is broken up by applause. It happened just four times down Wednesday. One of those times was when he mentioned the Olympics and the other time was when he mentioned the presidential campaign of Barack Obama.