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Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2008 04:30 am

Get it done

How about a plan to stimulate our state’s leaders?

Untitled Document Is a national recession likely? I have no idea. Economists don’t seem to know for sure. Nobody really does. But it has been interesting to watch Washington, D.C., react to the potential of a recession.
Usually I’m with those who say that Washington is broken. For years, the Republican-led Congress abdicated its role in shaping policy to a very powerful and formerly popular president. When the Democrats took over, they weren’t able to find a way to force an enormously unpopular but still powerful president to the bargaining table. President George W. Bush continued to get his way on just about everything, and the Democrats looked as weak and inconsequential as the congressional Republicans did. But the ever-growing fears of a recession finally seem to have gotten the nation’s powers that be moving in the same direction. Bush outlined his stimulus plan and a week later both parties in the U.S. House of Representatives, working closely with the Bush administration, came up with a proposal. The speed shocked people like me, who figured that the whole thing would get bogged down in petty details. This thing’s not over yet, so it still might go awry, but it’s been an impressive start. I told you that story so I could tell you this one.
We all know that state government has been paralyzed for at least the last year. It took eight or nine months to work out a deal to tamp down skyrocketing electric-utility rates that should have been done in eight or nine weeks. Gov. Rod Blagojevich demanded near-universal state-sponsored health-insurance coverage for the masses, but he inexplicably refused to compromise on a politically palatable funding source and nothing happened. The governor vetoed hundreds of millions of dollars in projects and grants from the state budget in political retaliation against House Democrats and Senate Republicans because they had held up his other priorities. That resulted in more wars over just about everything under the sun. And then the governor fiddled for months while the Chicago region’s transit system bordered on collapse.
Not everything is Blagojevich’s fault — there are several others to blame — but he’s the governor, and the buck stops with him. If we are slipping into a recession, we can no longer afford to have this sort of political gridlock and goofy showmanship. What we need are results. One of the ways that Illinois can help protect itself against a national economic slowdown is to pass what’s known as a capital plan. It’s another way of saying “a program to repair and construct roads, bridges, schools, and mass-transit networks.”
The federal government has approved billions of dollars for Illinois construction projects. All Illinois has to do is come up with its financial share.
But the capital plan has been held up by the political war between the governor and House Speaker Michael Madigan. Madigan doesn’t trust the governor to release cash for projects in his members’ districts — with good reason. Blagojevich simply isn’t trustworthy, and he has proved over and over again that he will use whatever power he has to undercut Madigan. On the other hand, Madigan won’t sit down with Blagojevich and try to find common ground. The capital plan will create hundreds of thousands of jobs all over Illinois, either directly or indirectly. It will help cushion the blow of an economic downturn. Heck, even if nothing bad happens it will still be hugely beneficial to the economy and to ordinary everyday citizens who drive on those dilapidated roads and bridges, send their kids to crumbling schools, and ride rickety rail lines. If Washington can get its act together, surely Springfield can. The governor needs to decide whether he wants to be a silly can’t-do buffoon who lives to score cheap political points or a real leader. He needs to do whatever it takes to get this done. And if he can’t lead, he ought to get out of the way.

Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and
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