Blagojevich will cut budget, expand health care
August 14, 2007
By Christopher Wills
SPRINGFIELD -- Rejected by legislators, Gov. Rod Blagojevich said today he will go around them by taking $500 million from the state budget they approved and spending more on the health care programs he favors.
The Democratic governor said he would cut $200 million in "pork" projects and $300 million from unspecified places elsewhere in the budget. At the same time, he plans to expand state health programs to serve an additional 500,000 people.
• Ill. officials get raises; schools, hospitals miss out
Blagojevich refused to answer any questions about the maneuver, which he announced in a brief appearance outside his state Capitol office.
"In short, I am cutting pork and special-interest spending and in its place I'm using the legal authority that I have to expand health care to more than 500,000 people," he said before turning and walking away. "I believe that's the right thing to do."
The cuts he wants to make would have to go back to the Legislature to be accepted or overridden.
Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, joined Blagojevich at the announcement and said he supports the governor's cuts and would not allow any Senate effort to override them.
"Case closed," Jones said.
Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson, R-Greenville, questioned whether Blagojevich has the legal authority to make such a dramatic change in the $59 billion budget that lawmakers approved last week.
"I think it's unprecedented," Watson said. "To have a governor just totally disregard the legislative process with this type of initiative, I think creates more problems in the process."
The governor's announcement is just the latest twist in a remarkable legislative session that has left the state without a budget.
In March, Blagojevich proposed the largest tax increase in state history to fund an ambitious agenda on health care, education and debt reduction. That launched months of bickering with lawmakers, who did not share his fervor for health care or his interest in a major business tax.
Unable to agree, officials let the old budget expire July 31. State paychecks are still going out, thanks to a court order, but the impasse is blocking payments to schools, Medicaid providers and companies doing business with the state.
Jones gave little or no warning to his Senate members that he would help the governor eliminate the local projects they wanted, from fire department computers to street improvements to dance-related community programs.
Several seemed surprised by the governor's plan.
"God bless him, he was going to get health care no matter what," said Senate Majority Leader Debbie Halvorson, D-Crete. "That's one way to do it."
Nice cost of living increase in budget
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - The governor and legislators will get bigger paychecks soon, but Illinois schools and hospitals may be out of luck.
A new law signed by Gov. Rod Blagojevich gives top officials a roughly 10 percent cost-of-living increase.
It also promises $1.2 billion to hospitals and $150 million for school construction, but officials said Tuesday that delays in passing the measure and signing it into law have created technical problems that will block the money for hospitals and schools.
"It's outrageous that these funds are not going to be released," said Ben Schwarm, associate executive director of the Illinois Association of School Boards. "We think it's a legal obligation. It's an ethical obligation."
Lawmakers sent the spending measure to the governor on June 14, two weeks before the end of the state's fiscal year. Blagojevich took no action for two months, then signed it late Monday night _ just before it would have taken effect without his signature.
His aides say it's now too late to provide the hospital and school money, for two different reasons.
The hospital money is part of an effort to capture more federal matching funds and funnel them to hospitals that serve lots of poor people. The first step in that money shuffle is for the state to take out a short-term loan.