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Wednesday, March 21, 2007 02:26 pm

Push-back

Ranking House Democrat urges governor to go slow

Untitled Document Illinois House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie usually hangs back and lets others make news. Since getting the No. 2 job in the House Democratic caucus in 1997, she hasn’t been known for being way out front on major issues, and as far as I can remember she’s never once publicly criticized Gov. Rod Blagojevich. But that all changed last week, when Currie gave an important speech to the Taxpayers’ Federation of Illinois in which she blasted the governor, a fellow Democrat. She insisted that she he was only speaking for herself, not for House Speaker Michael Madigan, but all of Madigan’s top people were well aware of the contents of her address before she delivered it. Her speech is a must-read for those of us who are fascinated by the slow-motion train wreck that is the 2007 legislative session. Currie began her speech by saying that Blagojevich had delivered the “most audacious and far-reaching budget address ever given by an Illinois governor.” Blagojevich called for huge increases in education and health-care spending, along with some incredibly large tax increases, which will eventually add up to about $8 billion a year in new revenues. The majority leader also heaped praise on Blagojevich, saying that he possessed a “genuine desire to do good” and adding it would be “wrong to doubt his   sincerity.”
With the niceties out of the way, Currie made it crystal clear that the Legislature will not “be rushed into making a mistake from which it could take the state decades to recover.” And she warned the governor to not revert to his old scapegoating habits from his controversial first term. “If our efforts to spend the time it takes to get it right this time lead him to accuse us of indifference to the suffering of our fellow citizens or to portray us as mere pawns of special-interest organizations, he will have done his cause no good,” Currie said, adding, “Proceeding at a deliberate, careful pace is not obstructionism. Taking our time to make sure we understand the details, grasp the implications, and make decisions based on facts, not spin, is not obstructionism.”
Most of the governor’s top aides, including his budget experts and his chief of staff, were in attendance that night, and they certainly couldn’t help but notice that much of Currie’s speech was aimed directly at them. “It’s     critical that he, his staff, and his advocates engage the Legislature in a serious, straight-forward, and honest manner,” the majority leader said. The governor hasn’t exactly been known at the Statehouse for his openness or his willingness to tell the complete truth. Currie also criticized the governor’s office for not bringing in House leaders or business-people before unveiling his massive tax plans. “This is a very curious way to begin to attempt the most sweeping overhaul of state government in more than a generation,” she said.
Currie has been the House Democrats’ chief tax expert for years, and she announced last week that she and John Bradley, House Revenue Committee chairman, would hold hearings starting this week to take a careful look at the governor’s proposals. “At this point,” Currie said, “I have more questions than answers.”  
Currie seemed to indicate that the gross-receipts tax proposed by the governor was too high. She noted that corporations would have to pay about $500 million more than they now do to bring them back up to the same level they were paying in 1980, while directly contrasting that with the governor’s so-called fairness plan that raises $6.5 billion a year.
Much of the speech, however, was about process. “If he prefers to leverage public policy via press releases, vigils, protest marches, television advertisements, and airplane fly-arounds, I don’t think lawmakers will buy,” Currie warned. “Demagoguery will not be well received by most members of the General Assembly.”
Considering how much push-back the governor’s gross-receipts tax has generated in just a few weeks, Blagojevich would be plain stupid to forget about building public     support and concentrate all his energies on the General Assembly. If he sits back passively and just works behind the scenes, things could spiral out of control in a big hurry. That said, what I took away from Currie’s speech is that the governor needs to grow up and finally learn that the bare-knuckles  campaign game he loves so dearly is only part of the equation. She’s absolutely right about that.
Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.
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