State GOP Says No to Pork and Republicans Have Bigger Voice Now

Article excerpt

Byline: John Patterson Daily Herald State Government Editor

SPRINGFIELD - A state spending plan backed by Senate Democrats and Gov. Rod Blagojevich contains millions of dollars for pet projects sprinkled throughout the state at the same time they say a dismal economy forces deep cuts and prison closings.

A closer look at their plan finds $10,000 for McHenry so the chamber of commerce can buy banners. Hebron has $10,000 to improve a skate park. Also, $1,000 of taxpayers' money assists the Bucktown 5K run. And there's $25,000 for the 87th Street Stony Island Chamber of Commerce to boost shopping and business opportunities.

Suburban Republican lawmakers railed against what they viewed as Chicago Democrats keeping past pork projects alive. Even some Democrats were caught off guard.

"I think that's something we can probably live without," said state Rep. Jack Franks, a Woodstock Democrat who said he requested the banner money for McHenry several years ago. "I would much prefer to see that money put back in the General Revenue Fund."

GOP members said continuing such spending was unacceptable. That's key because Democrats now need Republican votes in both the House and Senate to pass a state budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Democrats control the General Assembly and the governor's office but were unable to agree on a budget before the midnight May 31 constitutional deadline. So now they need support from 60 percent of the lawmakers in each chamber, and that means Republicans, whose political muscle has withered, now have a say.

And the first thing that's clear is the budget Senate Democrats and Blagojevich pushed is going nowhere.

"I don't think this reflects the priorities of the General Assembly," said state Sen. Peter Roskam, a Wheaton Republican.

The plan narrowly passed the Senate late Monday in a flurry of activity shortly before the midnight deadline. But in addition to Republican opposition, it also provoked criticism from House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, whose aides questioned whether it was balanced and wondered why pet projects would be included when Blagojevich has often denounced them. …