State lawmakers return to Springfield with deadline looming

May 27, 2008 3:55:57 PM PDT
State lawmakers are still working on a new budget and a multi-billion dollar plan for building and repairing roads, bridges, schools and mass transit. But optimism is in short supply.

Do the words "Springfield stalemate" ring a bell? Last year there were multiple CTA meltdown threats. The major players aren't as loud this time around. But the governor's even more unpopular in and out of Springfield because of the damaging allegations in the Rezko trial. And that complicates the top legislative priority - the big infrastructure repair plan - because a lot of lawmakers don't trust the governor to run the program.

"That's simple. Infrastructure is really important for, not only for Chicago, but for the state of Illinois. And none of the school districts got infrastructure," said Doug Whitley, Illinois Chamber of Commerce.

"The overwhelming majority of legislators agree on the need for a multibillion dollar capital plan to repair the state's aging roads, bridges, schools and CTA," said Governor Rod Blagojevich.

Most of the state's political, business and labor leaders agree on the need for a multi-billion dollar capital plan to repair Illinois roads, bridges, schools and CTA equipment.

And there appears to be considerable support for the bi-partisan plan drafted by former House Speaker Dennis Hastert and former Congressman Glenn Poshard to pay for it by leasing the Illinois lottery and opening two new casinos, including one in Chicago.

But the toxic political atmosphere in Springfield that delayed a CTA bailout for months may do the same thing to a capital plan.

"You're sitting down there. It is a big circle going around and around. You know, that you've been down there," said Chicago Mayor Richard Daley.

Daley says it was easier for an imprisoned ex-governor, George Ryan, to pass the last big capital plan a decade ago because Illinois lawmakers liked, respected and trusted him, which is not the case with his successor, Blagojevich.

"I would be very frank, it's like the Hatfields and the McCoys down there unfortunately, lack of trust," said Daley.

"That's just rhetoric. It's not unusual here in illinois. You hear people in washington say that about each other," said Blagojevich.

The key is probably House Speaker Michael Madigan, who doesn't trust the governor to administer a multi-billion dollar plan fairly and competently. But Chicago Democrat Ken Dunkin says it may be time for Madigan to bite the bullet because the infrastructure plan is an absolute must.

"What we have to do, as the people who elected the speaker as our speaker, is to push him in the right direction," said Dunkin.

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown says the speaker wants an infrastructure plan. But he's only had a week to digest the $31 billion Hastert-Poshard program. So passing it this week appears to be a very long shot. The realistic goal is to get a budget done, which may be almost as hard. So another overtime session is very possible. But no one wants to be in Springfield all summer.

Lawmakers are also trying to get an ethics bill to the governor and deal with other outstanding issues this week.


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