No secret tax hikes or gaming expansions have been floated yet. No last-minute stadium deals are being planned. It's pretty dead out there.
"We don't have enough lame ducks to do anything big," complained one smooth operator last week about the lack of activity. Hugely controversial bills often require the support of legislators who will be out of a job in a few weeks and might be tempted to trade their votes for some financial security. But, evidently, too many incumbents are coming back next year to do anything major this fall.
A friend of mine was able to book a room at the favorite hotel of every connected statehouse insider, the Renaissance, on November 19 at 7:30. When the usually booked-solid Ren has rooms on a veto-session night, that's a pretty sure sign of legislative inactivity.
Plus, the Republicans are rightly reticent to help governor-elect Rod Blagojevich out of his no-new-taxes pledge. Why should they stick their necks out for stuff they usually oppose anyway, like higher taxes and more gambling, for the first Democratic governor in 26 years, who also made a whole bunch of completely unrealistic campaign promises?
Then there's the almost funereal atmosphere of legislative Republicans and those whose livelihoods have depended upon GOP control of the governor's mansion all these years. When the veto session ends, so does all significant Republican influence for at least two years, although Blagojevich sent a strong message with his appointment of former-Republican-governor-turned-mega-lobbyist Jim Thompson to his transition team that big-time GOP insiders are still welcome at the feeding trough - as long as they bring their checkbooks.
The end of the veto session will also mean the end of House Republican Leader Lee Daniels' career as a big shot. This could also very well be Senate President "Pate" Philip's last veto session. And, of course, one of the most prolific Republican wheeler-dealers in Illinois history, Governor George Ryan, is taking his final bow this fall.
The newly proposed death-penalty reforms round out our little trifecta of doom. This bill will most likely pass, but it has to do with death, so it fits our theme. The proposal, which is backed by key Senate Republicans, would ban the execution of the mentally retarded and allow appellate courts to toss convictions for reasons of "fundamental justice." Governor Ryan seems to be focusing on this legislation to secure his legacy, rather than increasing revenues to keep his pet state programs in place. Going out with something virtuous like death-penalty reform is much more likely to get him in the history books than ending his career with one final and gigantic broken campaign promise.
There are a few fun things brewing in Springfield, but you have to look pretty close to see them.
For instance, in what could be the first shot in a four-year battle between House Speaker Michael Madigan and Blagojevich, the House is expected to pass a huge supplemental-appropriations bill next week.
The bill essentially restores all the cuts made to the budget last spring. It is strongly backed by AFSCME and several human-service groups.
Philip has told the other legislative leaders and the governor that he is not committed to either killing or passing the bill. And the governor reportedly said in a private budget meeting that he might not veto the bill if it landed on his desk.
If Pate wants to play a bit of hardball, he could pass the bill next month, just before the new General Assembly and the new governor are sworn in. If Governor Ryan takes no action, the bill would still be alive for 30 days. Governor Rod would then have the choice of either signing or vetoing a bill that's literally chock-full of solemn campaign promises to re-open state facilities. If he signs the bill, he can't possibly find the money to pay for it. If he vetoes the bill, he will break a major campaign pledge within a month of taking office.
Sources say G-Rod could probably stop Madigan from running the bill if he picks up the phone and asks. The speaker decided to hold off on passing the bill last week to give Blago some time to think. But if Blagojevich doesn't call, the speaker will likely run the thing.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter. He can be reached at (http://www.capitolfax.com).