That’s what Blagojevich has used them for. He’s called 16 special sessions on this or that issue so far this year, one less than 2004, when he also was engaged in a battle with lawmakers over the budget. He accounts for nearly half of the 67 special sessions called by governors since the state’s 1970 Constitution was adopted.
That constitution gives him the authority to call for the special meetings to discuss a specific topic, but it doesn’t clearly say the governor may set the date and time. It would probably be a good thing to settle that issue. But that will do nothing to settle the underlying problem — that Blagojevich was ordering lawmakers to show up when there was nothing for them to do, often on weekends. For instance, he called a special session to address CTA funding on August 13. He offered no bill of his own, but he did threaten to veto the only realistic proposal on the table, an increase in the regional mass transit sales tax.
Party affiliation seems to have gone by the wayside for Blagojevich, a Democrat. He mentioned House Democrats and Madigan by name several times in a 15-minute question-and-answer session but avoided discussion of the state Senate, headed by one of his strongest allies and fellow Chicago Democrat, Senate President Emil Jones.
State Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, who had a hand in crafting electric rate legislation Blagojevich signed Tuesday, was not invited to the bill signing but came anyway and questioned the governor’s idea of “pork.”
“These are not pork projects, these are things that are absolutely necessary,” said Bradley, who estimates his district lost $650,000 for child abuse centers, senior citizen meals, sewer construction and more.
* Mark Brown: Time running out to pass transit bill
You wouldn’t think it would need to be said, but we all benefit from strong mass transit, not just those who ride the trains and buses. If you drive to work like yours truly, mass transit means that many fewer motorists with whom to contend on the roads. Fewer cars on the road mean cleaner air for all of us.
Of course, a lot of people riding the CTA don’t have the option of driving. They can’t afford a car. But our local economy couldn’t survive if they can’t get to their jobs or classes.
It’s starting to sound too much like I’m preaching, and I didn’t want to do that.
* Sales tax hike could fund CTA, road improvements
Chicago Transit Authority drivers were among those cheering the loudest as politicians promised to vote next week on a proposed sales tax increase for roads and mass transit. Those drivers received letters threatening that their jobs could be eliminated next month.
“Yes, I’m very afraid of getting laid off,” said bus driver Calvin Alexander.
“You lay us off, then it means we can’t provide for our families. Then it also messes with the public,” said CTA bus driver Gail Williams.
To provide transit funding, a Senate bill calls for a 0.25 percent increase in the RTA sales tax collected in the six-county region and a new real estate transfer tax in Chicago.
The House Mass Transit Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday on the measure in the Thompson Center. Committee Chairwoman Rep. Julie Hamos (D-Evanston) said she expected that the committee would pass the measure, and that it would be voted on by the legislature on Sept. 4.
Hamos and other supporters said they were confident they would have votes to override a veto from Blagojevich, who has said he would not approve any increase in the sales tax.
The governor drew criticism by not immediately signing the bill into law when he received it nearly a month ago. Some feared his inaction could cost consumers millions of dollars in higher rates by negating the price of a contract Ameren had negotiated to buy power.
But Lisa Madigan spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler said consumers actually will save $17 million over several years compared to the original negotiated price because of fluctuations in recent weeks.
Blagojevich defended his long review, comparing himself to a careful customer standing up to pressure from a used-car dealer.
Negotiators are hopeful consumers see bigger benefits from moves made to keep prices as low as possible.
But Blagojevich, who sat on the sidelines during the negotiations, angered lawmakers by announcing that he would take up to 60 days to review the bill. He said he thought he might be able to persuade the power companies to sweeten the deal, despite warnings from the attorney general’s office that any delays could lead to higher bills.
“After reviewing it, I believe it will provide immediate relief and put us in a position to keep working on longer-term electricity issues that need to be addressed to ensure that electricity in Illinois is affordable,” Blagojevich said in a statement.
State Rep. George Scully (D-Flossmoor), the House’s lead utility negotiator, said he was happy the governor signed the bill. “But it’s very unfortunate that he forced the people of Illinois to wait another month to get rate relief,” Scully said.
“The only thing the governor’s delay produced is a delay in when residents get the relief to which they are entitled,” state Rep. Dan Beiser, D-Alton, said in a statement, echoing a common complaint lately among downstate legislators whose constituents were hardest hit by the rate hikes.
Blagojevich, flanked by lawmakers and consumer advocates Tuesday, defended his decision not to sign the bill right away.
“Beware when these big companies are pressing you to sign on the dotted line before you’ve had a chance to (study) … a bill as complicated and as thick as the one you just saw me sign,” Blagojevich said. “When you get a big company like Ameren that’s treated customers the way they have, I think it’s prudent to be suspicious of their motives.”
Nearly 62,000 Chicago motorists have been slapped with $120 tickets since the revised July 15 deadline for failing to display valid city stickers — and that’s before investigators resume their annual hunt for sticker scofflaws in city-licensed garages
Although no money is directly tied to the Illinois law, the bill’s sponsors said they would seek to secure millions in funding over the next few months.
The measure, which bans human cloning, ensures researchers could work with embryonic stem cells in Illinois, which typically come from early-stage human embryos left over from in-vitro fertilization. Groups opposed to abortion argue the research requires the destruction of human embryos and is immoral. Proponents say embryonic stem cells offer the best chance of treating or curing many debilitating diseases.
The law also establishes procedures for couples to donate their unused in-vitro fertilization treatments for research and authorizes the Illinois Department of Public Health to administer the Illinois Regenerative Medicine Institute to give grants for research.
“I believe in the power of prayer,” Blagojevich wrote. “I also believe that our founding fathers wisely recognized the personal nature of faith and prayer, and that is why the separation of church and state is a centerpiece of our Constitution, our democracy and our freedoms.”
The measure’s House sponsor, Rep. Will Davis, a Homewood Democrat, had argued it was not a religious exercise, but a chance for pupils to settle down and reflect on the coming day.
He noted that both the Illinois House of Representatives and Senate begin each legislative day with prayers led by members of the clergy.
* Rep. Fritchey: Supporting governor’s ‘moment of silence’ decision
* Editorial: Veto of forced school prayer a wise move
* SAT scores down, but diversity up as Illinois bests national average
The decline isn’t significant and may be explained by the larger pool of test-takers, which numbered nearly 1.5 million high school graduates, said officials with the College Board, the private company that administers the SAT.
Illinois students did better than their counterparts across the nation. The state composite reading score was 594, up 3 points from last year; the math composite was 611, a jump of 2 points.