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Irrelevance and the budget mess

Monday, Jul 30, 2007

* My syndicated newspaper column this week deals with the growing irrelevance of Gov. Rod Blagojevich…

Two months into a record-breaking overtime legislative session, the four state legislative leaders met last week to talk about the budget, but for the first time ever, they made a point not to invite Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Senate President Emil Jones and House Speaker Michael Madigan, as well as very high level members of the other two legislative caucuses, all described the talks as generally positive.

The governor’s people also described the meeting as a positive event. Jones sat down with the governor later to brief him about the meeting. The governor’s people say Blagojevich also outlined where he wanted the budget talks to go. The governor’s office insisted that the two men are still on the same page. Blagojevich and Jones have been practically welded at the hip all year, so attending a budget negotiation without Blagojevich was seen as a major step by the Senate president, which is why the governor’s office was quick to claim everything was still fine between the two men.

The idea behind the meeting sans governor was that Blagojevich isn’t much of a negotiator. Instead of trying to find mutual solutions, the governor tends to give canned speeches over and over again and endlessly repeats his talking points, particularly about his demand for his much-beloved health insurance plan for the uninsured. He’s also quite abrasive and confrontational during the negotiating sessions, particularly with House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate GOP Leader Frank Watson.

In other words, he was more of a hindrance than a help when it came time to negotiate the budget. On Friday, Blagojevich brought Sen. Watson into his office to discuss “building a relationship,” according to WLS Radio reporter Ryan Hermes. If he had done that sort of thing six months ago, the governor might not have had so many problems this year.

* The Tribune has more on Senate President Emil Jones’ attempt to mediate the budget talks and distance himself from Blagojevich…

Jones has tried to show the governor that there is insufficient support for his plans even in the Senate Democratic caucus, which stood most strongly with Blagojevich over his first term. A few weeks ago, rank-and-file Senate Democrats said Jones gave them a chance to tee off in an animated and frank closed-door discussion in the president’s office, where they made it clear to Blagojevich that boosting school funding outranked his health-care agenda.

Underscoring that point, Jones last week separated the slimmed-down version of the governor’s health plan from his spending plans, isolating it in its own bill.

Jones also has come down from the $1.5 billion he and Blagojevich initially sought for schools, in favor of a $900 million infusion that would be backed by a massive expansion of gambling.

* Finke doesn’t believe that the governor will call an endless series of special sessions, as Blagojevich has threatened to do if he doesn’t get his way on the budget…

Remember how Blagojevich said he would keep lawmakers in session every single day until a budget was passed? That pledge lasted just over a week before he caved to pressure from Jones to give lawmakers a day off.

Maybe the public sees or reads that stuff about special sessions forever and still takes it seriously. No one inside the Capitol does anymore.

* The Daily Herald looks at the governor’s flip-flop on a one-month budget. First he was against it, now he’s for it…

Ironically, just a few weeks ago, it was Blagojevich who cautioned lawmakers that temporary budgets were not a solution and he’d soon stop supporting them because the spending levels are far below what he wants.

“A continuing string of one-month budgets is nothing more than a Republican budget in disguise,” Blagojevich, a Chicago Democrat, said in late June.

Blagojevich spokeswoman Abby Ottehnoff said a temporary budget is better than a government shutdown.

However, House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, said the apparent change by Blagojevich illustrates the difficulty lawmakers have in working with the governor.

“See, that’s his behavior that’s not helpful to this process. It’s behavior that’s not helpful toward negotiating a budget for the people of the state of Illinois,” Madigan told reporters. “We need good, firm leadership. Leadership that unites; does not divide. When the leadership changes its position, changes its direction, it simply doesn’t help.”

* Kurt Erickson has some adjournment predictions…

State Sen. Terry Link, D-Waukegan, suggested that things could be wrapped up by this weekend.

State Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said the General Assembly would be stuck in the Statehouse well into September.

And, House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, sounded like he was joking last week when he said lawmakers might be here in December.

Maybe he wasn’t being silly. In other words, no one really knows when they’ll figure out a way to end the stalemate over the budget.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Monday, Jul 30, 07 @ 9:56 am:

    Ironically, Rich, your syndicated newspaper column is more relevant to the budget process than Blagojevich.

  2. - Macbeth - Monday, Jul 30, 07 @ 10:01 am:

    Where is AFSCME in all of this? Apart from a couple peeps last week, they’ve been — oddly — silent.

    The state is 48 hours away — even less — from a theoretical shutdown — and, what? Nothing.

    Is Blagojevich “building a relationship” with AFSCME? Assuming that the shutdown will be, basically, an “up day?”

  3. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Monday, Jul 30, 07 @ 10:22 am:

    I think AFSCME is smart enough to understand that a one year budget is better than a one month budget for their members. Also, the next pay date for AFSCME members doesn’t come until mid July.

  4. - Macbeth - Monday, Jul 30, 07 @ 10:29 am:

    Huh? Mid-July? The next paydate for all state employees — including AFSCME — is August 10.

    Mid-july came and went.

  5. - Cassandra - Monday, Jul 30, 07 @ 10:29 am:

    AFSCME has been around the block and around Sfield for decades. They know there won’t be a shutdown.
    Anyway, the guv doesn’t care what they think SEIU is his union.

    As to other issues, AFSCME likely is not thrilled about the focus on health care for the uninsured and on education either. It’s all money they (and their members) don’t get. They don’t represent educators and their members all have health insurance since those members work for the government. Cheap health insurance I might add.

    Because of the new GASB regs requiring government entities to report on their retiree health costs and their plans for paying them, we will soon, this year or next, find out how much state retiree health care is really costing us and will cost us in the future. Judging by other published estimates around the country, it won’t be pretty for us taxpayers. In that context, maybe AFSCME has decided to stay below the radar for a while going into labor negotiations, and hope nobody notices the huge salary increases (unconnected to employee performance of course) they will no doubt be demanding.

  6. - A Citizen - Monday, Jul 30, 07 @ 10:52 am:

    The AFSCME contract is coming up for renegotiation in the coming year. Predictions of a strike are already out there. If the dems can’t appease AFSCME when they control the GA and Exec Branch then their disarray has become corrosive.

  7. - We get what we deserve! - Monday, Jul 30, 07 @ 11:01 am:

    This is what happens when the people elect a charlatan for governor.

  8. - Xray one - Monday, Jul 30, 07 @ 11:06 am:

    Illinois Tollway workers should walk out on Wednesday, August 1, 2007.

  9. - Captain America - Monday, Jul 30, 07 @ 11:11 am:

    Jones had to wake up sooner or later and distance himself from the Governor in order to survive politically. His tenure as Senate
    President is in serious jeopardy.

    Since I don’t see any way for the Governor’s health care plan to pass, I don’t see that there is any means for the Governor to save face. Madigan is correct: Because the Governor tragically has never made the transition from campaigning to governing, his three major priorities this session all failed to pass. It’s a clear-cut case of failed leadership on the Governor’s part.

    Frankly, I don’t know if there is any way for the Governor to recover politcally - he’s made so many mortal enemies - not just legailative leaders, but also rank-and-file legislators. If he vetos the mass transit funding bill, the Governor will be a “dead duck” rather than a “lame duck.”

    The best thing Julie Hamos could do for the Governor is to succeed in negotiating a veto proof majority on the transit bill. If Hanos succeeds, she, in effect,will save the Governor from political self-destruction, and he will live on to “fight the good fight” as he sees it until March 2010 (unless Fitzgerald intervenes before then).

  10. - Team Sleep - Monday, Jul 30, 07 @ 11:56 am:

    How many sitting governors can claim their state budgets are being negotiated without them? What an embarrassment.

    Captain, you are correct: Emil is in serious danger of losing his post. But who knows? Maybe he will step down after this term and Halverson will be slotted. Maybe Emil doesn’t care, and maybe he was more interested in getting the veto-proof majority than actually using his members to pass legislation. It’s called the Harry Reid disease.

  11. - Gregor - Monday, Jul 30, 07 @ 12:19 pm:

    I thought the AFSME contract forbid members to strike, did I misread that? of course, if a contract runs out, I suppose it would be up to them if they continued to work or not.

  12. - Anonymous ZZZ - Monday, Jul 30, 07 @ 1:10 pm:

    I apologize for what is probably a stupid question, but if we don’t have a budget by August 1st (and we obviously won’t), will that be the day government officially shuts down? We are hearing nothing from the higher ups on the details at my agency. Or will there be unexpended funds from last fiscal year that can be used on or for a few days/weeks after August 1st?

    I’d appreciate any clarification anyone can provide.

  13. - Ghost - Monday, Jul 30, 07 @ 1:22 pm:

    I recall a comment Blago made a while back, the gist of which was that he was doing the work of the people, not the democrats, so he was going to buck the party to do what he thought should be done.

    As it turns out he cant get much done all alone after all.

  14. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Monday, Jul 30, 07 @ 1:32 pm:

    Rich, I have to say that after nearly a month of listening to Gov. Blagojevich complain that Mike Madigan was a right-wing-conservative-Republican for working with Republican legislative leaders, its beyond hypocrisy that Blagojevich now says he wants to build a relationship with Frank Watson.

    P.S. How long has it been since Blagojevich proposed shuttering two state prisons in Watson’s district? Good luck building on that.

  15. - Squideshi - Monday, Jul 30, 07 @ 2:06 pm:

    “And, House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, sounded like he was joking last week when he said lawmakers might be here in December.”

    Well, if he were, perhaps he wouldn’t need to fill his time with things like erecting gigantic signs back home, announcing that he’s welcoming you to the representative district.

  16. - Arthur Andersen - Monday, Jul 30, 07 @ 2:09 pm:

    If I’m Frank, and Rod calls me over to “work on building a relationship” I wouldn’t bend over for anything less than a gold bar on the carpet.

  17. - Team Sleep - Monday, Jul 30, 07 @ 2:31 pm:

    YDD, that was 2004. Blago was embarrassed, and it was pretty much a scheme to counter-punch Watson. The state would have saved no money, and Blago actually told Frank that “it wasn’t about politics”. Frank should give him the old Italian salute and intentionally not show up to their next meeting.

  18. - Papa Legba - Monday, Jul 30, 07 @ 2:34 pm:

    And to think Blago has his sights set on the White House. Delusional.

  19. - state worker - Monday, Jul 30, 07 @ 4:09 pm:

    AFSCME Sent an e-mail that included this around today:

    It is the union’s firm position that a shutdown order would violate our contract. Under the contract, there are only three ways in which the state can order employees not to report to work. Article XX, Section 1 permits the state to implement an “emergency shutdown of 5 days or less,” but all time in non-work status as a result of the emergency shutdown must be with pay. The same section allows the state to implement a “temporary layoff of 5 days or less” and, under Article XX, Section 2, the state can implement an indefinite layoff. Under the provisions for both temporary and indefinite layoffs, however, the state is required to provide at least 30 days advance notice. With respect to any suggestion of unpaid furloughs, Section 1 prohibits the state from implementing such furloughs without first negotiating with the Union. The state has not asked to enter into furlough negotiations, nor would AFSCME be interested in any such proposal.

  20. - one of the 35 - Monday, Jul 30, 07 @ 4:14 pm:

    The concensus of his own party leaders and the rank and file, is that the governor is an impediment to the process, (the antithesis of leadership). But does the average citizen on the street know or even care?

  21. - Bill - Monday, Jul 30, 07 @ 4:59 pm:

    one of the 35,
    Good Question. From what I can tell the average citizen thinks that Gov. Blagojevich is holding the line against tax increases proposed ny teh legislature. Many are cheering him on. Most don’t know or care that there is overtime, no budget,or the danger of a shutdown.
    The shutdown in Pa. didn’t seem to hurt Rendell any, if at all,politically. I think Rod will come out of this ok politically except of course with anyone who is paying attention which is not many other than state workers and Legislators.

  22. - Arthur Andersen - Monday, Jul 30, 07 @ 5:42 pm:

    Right on, Bill. That must be how Rod rang up that 25% approval rate in the most recent survey data.

  23. - Bill - Monday, Jul 30, 07 @ 5:52 pm:

    Now, Art,
    You know that there is only one poll that counts.

  24. - 312 - Monday, Jul 30, 07 @ 6:07 pm:

    GRod couldn’t find irrelevant in the dictionary even if someone spotted him the I-R-R-E-L-E-V-A-N…

  25. - A Citizen - Monday, Jul 30, 07 @ 8:01 pm:

    So now after months since I said the gov is irrelevant he is now officially declared so. Well whoop-de-do! Now let’s see the “leaders” get the job DONE - by Thursday. NOTHING is standing in their way. Just do it and get the H outta Springfield!!!

  26. - Six Degrees of Separation - Monday, Jul 30, 07 @ 8:46 pm:

    You know that there is only one poll that counts.

    Yep. Just ask GWB.

  27. - A Citizen - Monday, Jul 30, 07 @ 8:48 pm:

    REALLY - get the job done and leave. From experience I would say Springfield is a reasonably hospitable place. However, GUESTS do eventually wear out their welcome. Out of area politicos have done just that. Aside from a few restaurants, hotels, and a lot of taverns most of the common folk there don’t think nearly as much of the “political elite” as they seem to of themselves. Please, do your job! They already have enough of a problem with the idle homeless - which without the taxpayers largesse you might qualify. The EGO trip is over!

  28. - irishmom07 - Tuesday, Jul 31, 07 @ 12:12 am:

    Bill, I am an average citizen. I am a retired woman , 69 years old. I am not involved with any organization but try to read up and stay informed. I don’t think the governor is holding any line. I think he act like a person that took one of those Dale Carnigie courses about how you are better than you think you are, and he was oversold. He is acting like a spoiled brat. I really couldn’t believe it when he was reelected. I talke to my kids all the time about how he is just interested in what he wants. God help us if he runs again and they elect him again. It would be even worse if he ever ran for president and won! I couldn’t believe the whole Cook County Election

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