Lawmakers back Blagojevich into corner as debate persists

Monday, August 13, 2007

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Tired, angry legislators have put aside their many differences and managed to back Gov. Rod Blagojevich into a corner. Now they're waiting to see whether he'll try to fight his way out or compromise.

The maneuver came Friday, after five months of futile negotiations, when lawmakers passed a state budget that Blagojevich opposes.

Illinois hasn't had a budget since July 31. Unpaid bills are piling up and schools are waiting for state aid. So the spotlight is on Blagojevich and what he'll do when the budget formally reaches his desk. He can:

* Sign it and spend the next six months accusing the Illinois Legislature of sending him a rotten budget and ignoring the needs of the people.

* Sign it and then work with lawmakers on other issues, gaining leverage from his control over the money in the budget.

* Reject it, either entirely or in part, and continue a five-month budget battle that threatens to interfere with government services.

Blagojevich has a long history of finding villains to rail against. He could choose to sign the budget, give up on passing any of his other initiatives and blame the legislature for forcing it on him. He could tell the public that lawmakers turned their backs on the need for health care, for safe roads and bridges, for efficient mass transit.

But that approach involves at least two risks.

One is that the public would associate him, rather than lawmakers, with those failures. For many people, the governor is the face of Illinois government, and he's to blame for everything it does wrong.

The other risk is that Blagojevich would permanently cripple his ability to pass legislation. Lawmakers have already discovered they can go around him to pass a budget and ignore his orders for special sessions. If the feud gets any worse, they might decide to ignore him entirely.

-- The Associated Press

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