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Illinois Soap Opera Pits Speaker Against Governor PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Illinois Politics
Tuesday, 11 May 2004 18:00
There’s always a soap opera at the Illinois statehouse, but this year’s version is a bit crazier than usual. Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan is killing off Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich’s proposals left and right. The speaker’s strongest supporters so far are Senate Republican Leader Frank Watson and Republican state Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka.

Democratic Senate President Emil Jones is miffed at fellow Democrat Madigan for reviving a bill sponsored by Senate Republican Leader Watson that Jones had killed.

Jones had been keeping things pretty close to his vest, but he, too, jumped on the anti-governor bandwagon late last week when he announced that he couldn’t support a tax hike on farmers. Senator Jones lives in Chicago.

The governor, meanwhile, is trying to drive a wedge into the speaker’s Democratic caucus.

One of the governor’s main allies last year was House Republican Leader Tom Cross, but Cross seems to be siding with the speaker more often than not these days.

And the governor’s budget director has taken to publicly insulting anyone who disagrees with him.

Like I said: crazy.

After giving Governor Blagojevich pretty much all he wanted last year, Speaker Madigan has decided to say no this year, and that has set off a massive chain reaction.

Madigan thinks the governor is borrowing too much money and is putting off paying the principal on that debt for too many years. He has turned thumbs down on Blagojevich’s plan to strip the State Board of Education of all of its powers and create a new Department of Education. He has indirectly criticized Blagojevich for raising too many taxes on businesses, and privately predicted that most of the governor’s revenue enhancements will not pass. He has also publicly advised the governor to prepare for deep budget cuts.

The Senate Republicans and Treasurer Topinka have been complaining about Blagojevich’s excessive borrowing habits for a year, so they welcomed Madigan’s endorsement of their position. And they are, obviously, also completely opposed to the governor’s tax hikes and want more budget cuts.

But this new and seemingly cozy relationship between the House speaker and the Senate minority leader isn’t sitting well with Senate President Jones. Watson proposed legislation this spring that would make it much more difficult for the governor to borrow money. Jones killed the bill, but then Madigan essentially revived the Watson proposal and invited Watson to testify in favor of it during a special House committee hearing. Madigan’s move was seen by Jones as a serious breach of legislative protocol. This sort of thing just isn’t done.

Jones made it clear, however, that a disagreement with Madigan wouldn’t translate into a lockstep alliance with Blagojevich. On Thursday, the same day that Madigan held his state-debt hearing, Jones announced that he wouldn’t support the governor’s proposed $27-million sales-tax hike on agriculture chemicals and fertilizer.

Meanwhile, also on Thursday, 27 House Democrats held a press conference to support the governor’s education plan against Madigan’s opposition. The large number of House Dems willing to publicly disagree with Madigan surprised several longtime Springfield types. Usually, Madigan’s members keep their grumbling to themselves.

Governor Blagojevich crowed about the large turnout, expressing hope that his plan would prevail.

But while the governor was bragging, the House Republicans tossed in their lot with Madigan and supported his alternative education-reform plan. Madigan now has more than enough votes to kill the governor’s idea.

And that brings us to the governor’s budget director, John Filan. During Madigan’s controversial hearing on the state debt, Filan was forced to defend the administration’s borrowing practices. In the process, he let loose a barrage of insults against Democratic Comptroller Dan Hynes and Treasurer Topinka, both of whom have criticized Filan for borrowing too much and backloading the principal payments. “Those that criticize the most, in my experience, have the least to offer,” he said.

Turning to Hynes, Filan blasted away. “If you have a solution, put it on the table. If you don’t have a solution, then stick with the responsibilities you have.”

Filan told Topinka that she probably wasn’t the best person to advise him on how to manage a budget.

Filan’s comments will only drive more Republicans into Madigan’s Democratic arms, so, right now, it looks like Madigan can build a bipartisan coalition to get what he wants. It’s too soon to say where it will all eventually wind up. But that’s what makes soap operas so fun to watch.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter. He can be reached at (http://www.capitolfax.com).
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