2008 Session Roundups: Illinois

Running for the US Senate representing Illinois in 1858, Abraham Lincoln said, "A house divided against itself cannot stand."  In present-day Illinois, animosity between Democratic leaders - Governor Rod Balgojevich and Speaker Michael Madigan - may bear this out.  The hostility between the two men, who are not on speaking terms, is the result of fierce disagreements over past and current budget provisions and a federal investigation into gubernatorial appointments and campaign donations.  The Speaker recently sent a memo to Democratic legislative candidates with talking points concerning when and how to bring impeachment proceedings against the Governor.  The breakdown in communication has clearly effected the state's business.

Ill Will Fuels Stalemate:

  • Budget: Before adjourning at the end of May, the legislature presented the Governor with a $59 billion budget.  However, the Governor says the budget is $2.1 billion in the red and legislators have not done their job to present him with a balanced budget.  Legislators say it's now up to him to use use his line-item veto to amend the package and bring it in line with state expenses.  The back and forth has not abated.    Meanwhile, the Administration is issuing stop-work orders to 39 construction projects across the state because its lawyers claim the legislature's budget plan prohibits them from moving forward.  Rep. Gary Hannig, who wrote the bill language in question, says the Administration is misreading the bill.  
  • Infrastructure Improvements: Despite broad agreement on a massive package of infrastructure improvements that would be financed largely with federal funds and create hundreds of thousands of jobs, the political rancor in Springfield has held up the plan.  While disagreement over the funding's state portion - created, in part, by leasing the state lottery to private investors - has not helped, the package passed the Senate but stalled in the House.  The Speaker said House members do "not have enough trust" in the Governor "to give him them authority to spend the amount of money that was being proposed in the bill."  The package, the first in nine years, would build and repair roads, bridges, schools, sewers, civic centers, and other public works.  The Governor is waging a public relations campaign to try and coax lawmakers back to Springfield to reach an agreement and pass the package. 

Public Transit:  A sales tax increase was enacted in the Chicago area to increase funding for public transit agencies, including a proposal inserted by the Governor to allow senior citizens to ride public transportation for free.

Health Care:  Lawmakers passed a five-year plan that will provide $640 million annually in state and federal funds to hospitals that serve a large number of Medicaid patients.  The Governor's efforts to expand access to FamilyCare for 147,000 parents and caretakers, which subsidizes health care for families, through an emergency order after the legislature refused to go along with his proposal in 2007 were dealt a final blow by a state appellate court.  

Campaign Finance:  Lawmakers have sent HB 824 to the Governor to curb "pay-to-play" contracting - where state officials award contracts to campaign donors.  The law bars people with state contracts worth more than $50,000 from contributing to the official who awarded the contract - or to the politician's opponent in an election year.  Despite passing without a single no vote, Governor Blagojevich has suggested he may re-write the legislation, which supporters say could derail the entire effort.  As we wrote previously, the bill is the result of years of corruption and comes amid a federal investigation into campaign donations and contracts awarded by the Governor.

Elsewhere, the Legislature postponed action on a bill that would have given spousal caregivers the same Medicaid payments that other caregivers receive (SB 2112).  And, for the second year in a row, lawmakers failed to reform payday lending and prevent predatory lenders from putting families into long-term loans that charge up to 700% APR.