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Thursday, Sept. 11, 2008 06:04 pm

Slow motion

IDOT won’t buy Harrisburg building right away

State transportation officials and Gov. Rod Blagojevich have maintained that the purchase of a Harrisburg building where the governor wants to move IDOT's traffic-safety division would not be made for at least 50 days after documents were submitted to the 12-member legislative Commission on Government Forecasting in accordance with state law.

September 11, marks day 50, but it's not clear when IDOT will make the purchase, or whether the administration will await the outcome of a legal challenge to the proposal. In August, following a lengthy hearing, the 12-member panel rejected the proposal.

After Blagojevich indicated plans to go ahead with the relocation in spite of the recommendation, Springfield civic leaders including mayor Tim Davlin, state Reps. Raymond Poe and Rich Brauer, state Sen. Larry Bomke, and several labor and business organizations, filed a lawsuit to block the move of the facility along with about 150 jobs.

However, the first scheduled court hearing on the matter was pushed back until Sept. 25. Blagojevich spokesman Brian Williamsen wouldn't say if the state would attempt to buy the property before then, just that there's no specified date on which they plan make the purchase.

"We will follow all rules and procedures but our plan is to still move forward," Williamsen says.

Calling it an opportunity to save state taxpayers money while stimulating the economy of Saline County, which ranks among the highest in unemployment, the governor wants to forgo leasing the IDOT Annex for $1.7 million per million and purchase and renovate a site in southern Illinois now belonging to Southeastern Illinois College Foundation for $1.56 million.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Blagojevich, IDOT secretary Milton Sees, state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, and Comptroller Dan Hynes, argue that the sale can not go through until the attorney general approves title.

They also raise concerns that the building is in a floodplain, that motor fuel taxes may be used to fund the purchase, and that the agency failed to search for any other sites in historic or central business districts.

Blagojevich rarely lets the threat of a lawsuit or questions about the legality of his actions stand in the way, however.

Don Craven, attorney for the plaintiff group, says Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who is defending Blagojevich and other state officials, reassured him that her office would not sign off on the building purchase before the Sept. 25 hearing. "I asked if anything bad was going to happen and they said no," Craven says, meaning that the sale likely won't go through until his Springfield clients have their day in court.

Scott Mulford, a spokesman for Madigan, declined to comment about the lawsuit but says the law is clear about the attorney general needing to approve title for real estate purchases. The Public Contract Fraud Act prohibits the expenditure of funds without first having a title. Violating the act is a misdemeanor.

"Could IDOT still do something stupid? Yeah," Craven says.

Contact R.L. Nave at rnave@illinoistimes.com.

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