Governor defends plan to cut budget

Thursday, August 16, 2007
Illinois Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, left, and Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, right, conferred during the Democrat Rally Wednesday at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield, Ill. (Seth Perlman ~ Associated Press)

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Wednesday defended his intentions to increase spending on health care without permission from Illinois lawmakers, calling the plan "as constitutional as it gets."

The Democratic governor said he will slash $500 million from the budget approved by the legislature following a lengthy budget impasse and will increase spending for several health-care programs he favors.

He would not provide a single example of the wasteful spending he's criticizing. Blagojevich also left open the possibility that he will cut projects supported by some lawmakers but not projects for Senate Democrats.

Senate President Emil Jones, a Democrat, is supporting the governor by promising to block any efforts to override Blagojevich's changes to the $59 billion budget lawmakers approved last week. That puts him at odds with other legislative leaders, particularly House Speaker Michael Madigan, after he worked with them to send a budget to the governor.

Some of Jones' fellow Senate Democrats have said they wanted more information before deciding whether to support his decision. And some lawmakers questioned the constitutionality of Blagojevich's proposal.

The governor, however, said his plan is "as legal as it gets, it's as constitutional as it gets."

In March, Blagojevich proposed the largest tax increase in state history to fund an ambitious agenda for health care, education and debt reduction. That launched months of bickering with lawmakers, who did not share his fervor for health care or his interest in a major business tax.

Unable to agree, officials let the old budget expire July 31. State paychecks still are going out, thanks to a court order, but the impasse is blocking payments to schools, Medicaid providers and companies doing business with the state.

Blagojevich spoke to reporters after a Democratic Party unity breakfast held at a Springfield hotel.

Asked how much damage the conflict was creating for the party, he said it's too early to say. If he succeeds in expanding health care programs, Blagojevich said, that would be a good result for Democratic lawmakers to tout while campaigning.

"I guess it depends on how the story ends," Blagojevich said.

Speaking to reporters earlier Wednesday at the same event, Madigan called the governor's proposal "contrary to the Constitution." The Chicago Democrat said the governor can use his veto powers to cut spending, but it would be unconstitutional for him to increase spending in areas where the legislature had designated less.

Madigan added that he hasn't decided if lawmakers should pursue legal action to block the governor.

The budget Blagojevich wants to overhaul was negotiated by the four legislative leaders working together without him. They seemed united in their strategy.

Now Jones is willing to back Blagojevich in changing that budget -- a decision he blamed on Madigan. He said Tuesday the House speaker betrayed his trust by working against a new Chicago casino that would have provided money for state construction projects.

"To conspire to do that with the Republican leadership is something you don't do. Based on that, any agreements we had were off," Jones said.

Madigan rejected Jones' contention that he betrayed him or broke some agreement. Madigan said he wasn't even invited to the meeting on a Chicago casino, and he noted that Mayor Richard Daley opposes the casino plan as discussed.

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