By DOUG FINKE
STATE CAPITOL BUREAU
SPRINGFIELD -- Just when it appeared there might be a new sense of cooperation and commitment to drafting a state budget, Gov. ROD BLAGOJEVICH stepped in and did what he does so well. He blew it all apart.
The governor and four leaders came together to pass a temporary spending plan that will keep the state operating for another month, and they reportedly were ready to finally start talking actual numbers for a new budget. There was agreement to let lawmakers have the week of July 4 off and then return the week after to resume their duties.
That all ended Friday when Blagojevich pulled one of his patented grandstand plays, saying he will call lawmakers into special session beginning July 5 and every day thereafter until a budget (apparently his budget) is passed. If nothing else, this little stunt will cost taxpayers about $42,000 a day in added costs, according to Republicans.
It is also sure to harden the already-hard feelings most lawmakers have toward the governor. He not only reneged on the agreement to let them have next week off (lawmakers should have gotten a memorandum of understanding about it), but he's going to keep them in Springfield every single day, further disrupting their personal lives. And it's not like the rank-and-file lawmakers participate directly in the budget talks. That stuff is left to the leaders.
Blagojevich apparently believes this eventually will cause the House Democrats to revolt against House Speaker MICHAEL MADIGAN, D-Chicago, resulting in the governor's big budget being passed intact.
*While demanding that rank-and-file lawmakers make sacrifices in the name of passing a new budget, Blagojevich doesn't appear to be willing to do the same.
Reporters repeatedly asked Blagojevich if he was going to continue his practice of flying home to Chicago on a state airplane every night during the special sessions while everyone else is stuck in Springfield. He repeatedly dodged the questions, saying only that he would be working on the budget every day.
Because, you know, the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do method of leadership is really your most effective.
* One problem with getting a new budget appears to be that Blagojevich can't count.
When the governor talked with reporters Friday to explain his plan for special sessions, he made repeated references to his second-favorite nemesis, Senate Minority Leader FRANK WATSON, R-Greenville. He referred to Watson as the "conservative Republican ally" of Madigan. At one point, Blagojevich said that Madigan "empowered" Watson in the budget talks. Oh, c'mon.
With all due respect to Watson, he has only 22 members in his caucus. That isn't enough to stop anything from happening. The only way Watson is empowered is if Blagojevich's good buddy, Senate President EMIL JONES, D-Chicago, can't convince his super-majority to back the governor. And he can't. If he could, the Senate would have passed the gross-receipts tax, universal health care and Blagojevich's entire budget by now.
The governor's problems in the Senate have nothing to do with Watson or the Republicans. They have everything to do with the fact that a lot of Senate Democrats are no more enthused about Blagojevich's programs than the Republicans are. If he can't accept that and compromise on his grandiose schemes, this session may never end.
*You have to wonder if Blagojevich even thinks about what he says before he says it. And if he does, how he manages to keep a straight face.
At one point Friday, Blagojevich made this observation: "The (budget) discussions over the last month unfortunately … haven't been that fruitful."
What budget discussions? Blagojevich would make mini campaign speeches at these meetings and then bring in a series of guest speakers, derisively referred to by the other leaders as show-and-tell sessions. Madigan, Watson and House Minority Leader TOM CROSS, R-Oswego, all wanted to start talking numbers, but Blagojevich could never get around to it.
Yet, it's now the governor who is complaining that the talks weren't fruitful. Oh, well. It had to be somebody's fault, and we know it can't be Blagojevich's.
*Lt. Gov. PAT QUINN's official schedule Friday called for him to greet barges of Illinois River mud when they arrived in Chicago as part of a conservation project.
Yes, the lieutenant governor was greeting mud.
Quinn never should have bad-mouthed Blagojevich's gross-receipts tax.
Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.