Capital crunch time reality check, and ... Senate ate my homework

Capital crunch time reality check, and ... Senate ate my homework

Posted by JP on Wed, 05/07/2008 - 08:03
The Illinois House AND Senate are back at the Capitol today. Here’s a quick reminder of the issues they face with a May 31 deadline for action, else House Democrats will need Republican votes. The current budget is, by some estimates, $750 million out of balance and will force state health care and possibly education payments to be delayed in order to make the books appear balanced. The next budget, which kicks in July 1, is in worse shape and so far has faced little to no public debate at the Capitol let alone agreement. Those budgets are where schools get funding, health care providers get reimbursed, state prison workers get paid, and on which everything else funded by the state hinges. Then there’s the lingering cry for state-sponsored construction projects covering roads, bridges and schools. Just about every lawmaker says he or she wants those projects but there’s been no agreement on how to pay for it. Gov. Rod Blagojevich proposed selling off the lottery. Senate President Emil Jones Jr. said he’d like a tax increase. Gambling expansion is also an option. For perspective, here’s a recent example of how well the legislative leaders are getting along as they enter crunch time at the Capitol. The last several weeks have centered on whether voters should get a chance to amend the state constitution to allow for the recall of elected officials who’ve fallen out of favor for whatever reason. The House approved one version and sent it to the Senate, which didn’t like that version and, facing a great deal of media heat on recall, came up with its own. That move meant that – if the Senate approved it – the House would have to stay in session all weekend to vote on the Senate version in order to make a May 5 deadline to get the recall amendment on the November ballot for voters. Weekend sessions are a rarity and lawmakers are the only ones grumbling louder than reporters about them. However, House Speaker Michael Madigan sent word that the House would do exactly that, essentially calling the Senate’s bluff. But the Senate voted down recall and everyone went home for an extended weekend -- Friday through Monday, with the Senate taking Tuesday off too. Lost in all this was a big package of requests from school districts looking to avoid complying with various school regulations and requirements. School boards submit these requests to lawmakers who then must vote them up or down. If they don’t make a set legal deadline, all waivers are granted. And that’s just what happened. The Senate voted on the set of requests from all over the state late last week and then left town. But the House wasn’t scheduled back in session until Tuesday, after the legal deadline for considering the school waiver requests. The House took a meaningless vote Tuesday, acknowledging it was too late to do anything. So, all the waiver requests – including several that let suburban schools keep using drivers’ ed simulators rather than on-the-road instruction – were automatically approved. And the way the process played out, the Senate – which has been taking heat for the recall defeat -- made it look like the House was asleep at the switch and let the waiver deadline. Was it intentional? Not much happens at the Capitol by mistake.
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