Madigan coming around to infrastructure plan

August 13, 2008 4:03:35 PM PDT
Governor Rod Blagojevich was booed and boycotted during his annual day at the Illinois State Fair. Members of a major labor union walked out during the governor's speech.. And five top elected state Democrats boycotted the event.

Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn and House Speaker Mike Madigan were among the no-shows for Governor's Day.

This latest display of party discord comes on the same day Speaker Madigan announced that he and fellow house Democrats are ready to take a new look at the governor's plan to lease the state lottery to pay for a $25 billion capital spending plan.

Madigan and his house Democrats have single-handedly blocked passage of that massive public works jobs bill because of Madigan's ongoing feud with Blagojevich. But now under intense pressure from business, labor and the rest of the political establishment, Madigan is finally ready to sign on to the governor's revised construction plan, and that is the only sign of party unity on a day that was dominated by dissension.

The governor was greeted with a chorus of boos at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield. A walkout was staged in a contract dispute over health benefits that Blagojevich said will eventually be resolved amicably.

"They're going to keep their jobs. They're going to keep their health care," said Blagojevich.

Governor's Day is supposed to be a celebration of party unity. But most of the state's top Democrats were boycotting the event because of the toxic political climate.

"It is horrible here. It's embarrassing for Democrats and horrible for the state of Illinois," said Alexi Giannoulias, (D) state treasurer.

The day began on a positive note at a Democratic Party meeting in a Springfield hotel, where Blagojevich's archenemy, Madigan, said for the first time that he's ready to support the governor's scaled-down $25 billion road, bridge and school construction program to be paid for by leasing the state lottery.

"We're still concerned about how the money would be spent and where it would be spent. But today, the prospects look very, very good," said Madigan

"That's good talk. But at some point, you got to do more than just talk. You got to do the walk. You got to get it done," Blagojevich said.

Madigan's change of heart is being greeted skeptically by many in Springfield, including senate Republicans, who staged a pro-construction news conference with a shovel and hard hat.

"The Democrats, they can't get it together, just totally unexcusable, not acceptable," said Sen. Frank Watson, (R) minority leader.

The governor called another special session for Wednesday evening over at the state capitol on the issue of the construction and jobs program, a special session called before there has been any agreement on the bill. That bill, like the one on education funding Tuesday, will probably be over in just minutes, leaving taxpayers with another bill of $40,000 or $50,000 for no work accomplished.

But on the positive side, for those who favor the jobs bill, which would create about half a million jobs in Illinois in these tough economic times, Madigan's signing on indicates the bill could be passed in the next few weeks. And at least that's what we're hearing.


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