Governor recruits Hastert, Poshard to help with capital plan

March 5, 2008 5:45:05 PM PST
Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich is counting on former Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert to deliver something that has eluded him during his time in office: a statewide construction program. Blagojevich on Wednesday named Hastert and Southern Illinois University President Glenn Poshard, a former congressman and Democratic candidate for governor, to lead a coalition of business, labor and local leaders to help get a capital program through the Legislature.

A capital plan to build roads, schools, bridges and other infrastructure work has been elusive during Blagojevich's tenure, largely because of distrust over where the money would come from and how it would be spent.

Just a few months ago, everyone was talking about gambling expansion to pay for one, but feuding between Blagojevich and some lawmakers doomed the idea.

"Ultimately I'm confident that this group -- the elected leaders who will ultimately make the tough decisions in Springfield -- will be able to set aside differences and like the Illinois congressional delegation come together for the good of our state and most importantly get the job done," Hastert said.

A proposed $11 billion state capital plan was the centerpiece of Blagojevich's recent budget address and it relies on a partial lease of the state lottery to come up with necessary money.

Members of Blagojevich's new bipartisan commission will travel around the state assessing the support for a capital program and the needs that are out there. Poshard said the coalition will eventually issue recommendations.

Blagojevich said he's flexible on the projects a capital plan ultimately includes.

"We're flexible with regard to the priorities and the spending priorities so long as it makes sense for the people of Illinois," Blagojevich said.

He said he's also adaptable on how to pay for it, "except for raising taxes on people."

The coalition expects to spend lots of time over the next several months talking to lawmakers, the governor and their staffs, Poshard said.

A spokesman for Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, who has frequently clashed with the governor, said he had no comment on Blagojevich's new Illinois Works Coalition.

As for a capital plan, Brown said of Madigan: "He meets with people all the time about the capital plan."