Will this be the longest State Budget session in History?
In the gridlock world of the Illinois State Capitol Building, overtime just seems to go on forever. There's little excitement, though it does cost a lot of money keeping the governor, legislative leaders, lawmakers, staffers and Capitol workers on the job as one summer month blurs into the next.
Electric rate war
Legislators and utility executives have met for countless hours in the last few months, trying to strike a deal that provides short-term benefit to consumers and long-term assurances of reliable and affordable electricity.
But they've encountered sticking points in both categories.
Recent talks have centered on about $1 billion in relief for customers over several years, with Ameren, ComEd and the companies that generate power for them providing that cash back.
Consumers could receive refund checks for the higher amounts they've paid this year, or get the money as credits on future bills. Consumers who have paid the largest increases could see the most aid, or it could be spread out more to cover all customers paying higher bills.
Negotiators also are trying to decide how high of a rate increase is acceptable for customers for the rest of this year and beyond.
The real complexity, however, comes in making long-term decisions.
Some lawmakers have suggested passing another rate freeze, ensuring customers pay lower rates over the next few months or years while decision-makers plot out where to go next.
But many say that would only add to Illinois' electric rate problems and result in a long legal battle.
"If we pass a rate freeze and then don't fix the structural problems, then the situation continues on for who knows how long," said Rep. Bob Flider, D-Mt. Zion. "I think it would be better if we could come to some resolution rather than have the decisions rest with the courts."
Not happy with the Blagojevich lottery plan
By a 79-6 vote, the Democratic-controlled House defeated Blagojevich's plan to lease the state lottery to private investors to pay down the state's pension debt.
Blagojevich called the vote "a three-ring circus'' and accused House Speaker Michael Madigan, a fellow Democrat from Chicago, of conspiring with Republicans to undermine his social-service spending goals.
"Mr. Madigan, unfortunately, has chosen not to be a Democrat anymore,'' Blagojevich told reporters in the Statehouse. "(He) has chosen to be a part of a right-wing Republican effort to take health care away from children and take meals away from senior citizens and actually cut education, and that's what this fight is all about.
Illinois still has no permanent budget for the fiscal year that started Sunday because the state's top leaders can't agree on a spending plan. Blagojevich wants major new spending for health care, education and other areas, while Madigan says the state can't afford it.