Denny and Glenn's smooth political sailing over choppy waters

Denny and Glenn's smooth political sailing over choppy waters

Posted by JP on Wed, 06/04/2008 - 13:50

One of the biggest surprises to come from the demise of a $34 billion construction-spending plan is that its co-pilots received little to no political blowback for their somewhat odd roles in promoting it.
If you’d have told a Republican a year ago that former Republican U.S. House Speaker Denny Hastert would be traveling the state on behalf of Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich and telling people to give Blagojevich more money, they’d have either laughed in your face or questioned your sanity – or both.
But there was Hastert recommending fellow Republicans trust Blagojevich and vote for gambling expansion and leasing out the state lottery in order to give controlling Democrats access to more money.
This would be the same Hastert who, in a 2006 Oswego Ledger-Sentinel piece, criticized Blagojevich’s priorities and handling of state finances, particularly in regards to road projects.
“The money for the expressway is there,” Hastert said of the Prairie Parkway project he’s fought for. “It just needs to be released by the governor and spent. The frustrating thing we have in Illinois, we brought an extraordinary amount of money back for the state, more than it’s ever had, of its share, because we were able to work the formula for ethanol and other things we didn’t get before. But because the governor spent all the trust fund money, there is no capture money, there is no anchor money.”
And then there’s fellow construction plan pilot Glenn Poshard, the head of Southern Illinois University who won the Democratic nomination for governor in 1998 but lost to George Ryan. As a state and then federal lawmaker, Poshard’s fiscal and socially conservative message was fiercely embraced by downstate voters.
As mentioned above, the $34 billion construction spending spree relies heavily on new casinos and more gambling at existing casinos. In September 1998, Poshard announced he opposed gambling expansion unless and until voters could weigh in on the topic.
“We just felt like we wanted to stick with what we have always said, that any expansion would be subject to a statewide referendum,” Poshard told me during the 1998 campaign.
He also said he’d vote against expansion if that statewide vote ever occurred.
The combination of a one of the most influential Republicans in the state teaming with one of its most socially conservative Democrats to push gambling expansion and leasing out the lottery in order to dramatically increase state spending seemed ripe for criticism.
Then again, perhaps its testament to their reputations that it never brought any.


Here are a couple other things to keep in mind about the construction plan.
It grew from $30 billion to $31 billion to $34 billion in a matter of days. The governor's office claimed there was a detailed list of every project. But it wasn't made public, numerous lawmakers said they hadn't been briefed on what was in it and the list provided to reporters had billion-dollar earmarks for things like "revitalization", which we all learned from the last billion-dollar spending spree is porkese for stained glass windows in a Naperville parking garage or a Jack Benny statue in Waukegan. Keep those valuable projects in mind next time you buy a six pack, bottle of wine or renew you license plates because that's where the higher alcohol taxes and vehicle fees you pay went.
The lottery deal would mean the state would give up nearly all of the $600 million a year it gets now from lottery losers in exchange for at least $10 billion upfront.
That $600 million goes toward school funding, though it’s never been the school savior it was touted to be. That’s because the lottery money was never in addition to existing state spending. It just meant the state had a couple hundred million to spend elsewhere because the lottery was covering part of the school budget.
Back to the lottery deal ... of the $10 billion lease, $7 billion would go for construction projects and $3 billion would go to a “lock box” to ensure schools don't lose out.
Something to keep in mind: lawmakers are considering balancing spending by draining $500 million from dozens of other "special funds."

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