* This week marks the fifth anniversary of the Illinois Senate’s vote to remove Rod Blagojevich from office. Kurt Erickson looks at what has changed…
Construction: During his six years in office, Blagojevich and the legislature were unable to agree on a way to pay for a job-creating road, bridge and school construction program. Within a year of his departure, Quinn and the legislative leaders had devised a plan to legalize video gambling and raise taxes and fees on booze and motorists. The money has paid for not only better roads, but new copper doors on the Capitol.
Taxes: Blagojevich was true to his word when he said he would never support raising taxes. But that meant he had to use sleight-of-hand budgeting techniques — like tapping into pension funds — to finance his pet programs. His actions, as well as those by chief executives who came before him, left the state in a precarious fiscal position. Within two years of his ouster, a temporary increase in the income tax was approved.
Pensions: After balking for years, lawmakers last month finally approved an overhaul of the state employee and teacher pension systems. Although it likely won’t save any money while it winds its way through the court system, passage of the changes showed the General Assembly and Gov. Quinn were finally starting to figure out how to make tough decisions.
New laws: While Blagojevich was in office, his signature achievements included the expansion of a health insurance program for kids and an increase in the minimum wage. Since Quinn came on board, the state has legalized medical marijuana and gay marriage, approved new worker compensation rules and offered up some guidelines for a controversial oil and gas drilling process that will: a) create thousands of jobs; b) ruin the environment; c) or, do some of both.
Prisons: After years of listening to Blagojevich threaten to close prisons, Quinn actually did it. The governor moved inmates out of the Tamms super-max facility and the all-female Dwight Correctional Center, as well as closed juvenile prisons and a handful of halfway houses. The closures confounded many observers because they came at a time when the prison system is grossly overcrowded.
* I put together a retrospective video a year after his arrest. It’s probably worth another look…
Man, I do not ever want to relive anything even close to that madness.