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Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2009 06:33 am

The budget mess we’re in

From the looks of it, nobody’s working on a state spending plan

Gov. Blagojevich talks to reporters in Chicago.

Rod Blagojevich appears to be coming to terms with the reality that his political fate will soon be sealed. He has acknowledged in recent days that the Illinois Senate is likely to convict and strip him from office.

And this week he started showing displaying symptoms of severe impeachitis, playing hooky from work to hit the New York City talk-show circuit. But if you’ll remember, after his arrest and release on Dec. 9, the governor continued reporting to his Chicago office every day, purportedly to work on the state budget.

So where is it? The governor’s Springfield press office didn’t respond to messages left on Tuesday asking whether the governor was still working on the spending plan. Other state leaders are taking a wait-and-see tack.

The governor is obligated by the constitution to submit a budget to the Generally Assembly each year. The clock is ticking, however: this year’s budget address is scheduled for Feb. 18.

“My guess is that they’ll roll it back,” says Kent Redfield, emeritus professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Springfield. Unless there are any major new initiatives proposed, Redfield says, this year’s budget will be similar to last year’s proposal.

Among the criticisms often leveled at the governor, which will no doubt factor into many lawmakers’ decisions about whether to remove him from power, are Blagojevich’s handling of budgetary matters.

In addition to a deficit of $2.5 billion, the state has an enormous backlog of unpaid bills. The governor has blamed the legislature, particularly the House, for failing to pass a balanced budget. During his recent east coast media blitz he stated that the lawmakers want him gone so they can raise taxes.

Faced with these daunting fiscal challenges, the person who will succeed Blagojevich as governor, and therefore assume responsibility for the budget address, isn’t getting ahead of himself.

“That would be presumptuous because he is not the governor,” says Bob Reed, lieutenant-governor Pat Quinn’s communication director says, when asked if Quinn was drafting his own budget plan.

“He doesn’t know the full extent of our situation,” Reed says. The governor has notoriously kept Quinn out of the loop for the past several years. Reed adds: “[Quinn] is gathering as much information as he can without being the governor.”

Quinn has also indicated that he would consult with the state’s other top bean counters, including state Comptroller Dan Hynes and Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias.

According to Redfield, given the state’s tenuous financial and political situation, such an all-hands-on-deck approach to getting Illinois back on track wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Whatever happens to the governor, Redfield says of Quinn: “He’s got to get up to speed pretty quickly.”

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

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