Talk about a week filled with heavy-duty irony. Christian conservatives rallying for lower casino taxes and Governor Rod Blagojevich doling out George Ryan's pork money. Early last week, a coalition of conservative groups held a press conference.

The conservatives stood shoulder-to-shoulder with employees of Aurora's Hollywood Casino riverboat who criticized Governor Blagojevich's tax hikes on the gaming industry. One of the casino employees said she was "ashamed" that she had voted for Blagojevich last November.

Hollywood Casino chartered a bus to ship its workers to the Chicago event after announcing it would lay off 300 employees by the end of the week.

Ah, but here's the rub. Some of the conservative attendees at the press conference were of the so-called "social conservative" stripe, meaning they were your anti-abortion, anti-gay rights, pro-gun, and, um, anti-gambling types. That's anti-gambling as in: "Casinos, bad."

So, if left up to many of the conservatives who were at the event, that angry casino worker and disgruntled Blago supporter wouldn't have had a job in the first place.

The social conservatives were evidently coaxed to the press conference by Washington-based "fiscal conservative" groups with the promise of participating in an all-out assault on the liberal Democratic governor. Afterwards, some of the "socials" felt a wee bit used. Evidently, their eagerness to publicly slam Blagojevich for his multitude of other tax and fee hikes on businesses overrode their curiosity about any other agendas that might be in play. Oops.

The irony of the social-conservative presence at a pro-riverboat press conference aside, the boats do make a couple of good points.

Most people don't know this, but the governor's plan taxes the boats at a top rate of 70 percent - and that's on revenues, not earnings. The proposal also increases the tax boats pay on every person who boards. So, out of the 30 percent that the state allows the top-performing boats to keep, they have to pay the increased head tax, local property taxes, state income tax, federal income tax, unemployment insurance, workers compensation insurance, and FICA. Not to mention normal costs of doing business, like wages, benefits, utilities, advertising, loan payments, and legal fees. You can see why they're upset.

Still, that 70-percent tax doesn't kick in until revenues reach $500 million, so the boats are not exactly a bunch of paupers. And the tax will expire as soon as the state manages to free up the hopelessly screwed-up and currently unused 10th casino license that was originally supposed to float in a Rosemont moat, or in two years, whichever comes first. (Nine-to-five on two years.)

Meanwhile, Governor Rod Blagojevich was traveling the state this week gleefully handing out pork-project money that was originally put into the budget when George Ryan was governor. This was the very same money that Blagojevich so piously railed against last year when he was still a candidate.

The projects, he said during the campaign, "cannot be justified at a time when there's a budget crisis, when we're cutting funding for schools, for hospitals, and for college tuition."

The guv has had a change of heart since then, claiming he would release pork project money if it was for education, public safety, or health care.

And he seemed to have no problem mugging for the cameras without a hint of ironic awareness while he made his round of small-town check-presentation ceremonies last week.

Last year, the governor was a mere candidate without access to hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer funds to sprinkle around districts represented by his legislative allies.

Now, he controls the purse strings, and a few mil here and a couple mil there to people who demonstrated their loyalty during the spring legislative session doesn't sound too terribly awful after all.

That some of those legislators reportedly traded votes for his bills in exchange for the pork money they were promised a year ago also apparently didn't sound the least bit heinous.

I'm one of those people who believes that with proper and honest oversight, legislators ought to be able to initiate government spending in their own districts. So, I don't really care about the pork dough.

But I didn't spend a kabillion dollars on TV ads last year solemnly pledging to eliminate pork and vowing to the heavens that I would change "business as usual" in Springfield.

I know someone who did, though. His initials are Rod Blagojevich.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter. He can be reached at (

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