Agenda still crowded though fall session has few days left

Monday, November 26, 2001

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Illinois lawmakers have three days left in their fall session, and all they have to do is:

Act on vetoed legislation ranging from domestic battery to government secrecy.

Balance civil rights and security concerns to come up with acceptable legislation to guard against terrorist attacks, while also finding $17 million for stepped-up security.

Figure out how to plug a $500 million hole in the state budget, despite friction between Gov. George Ryan and House Speaker Michael Madigan.

No wonder talk of a special legislative session is springing up.

Lawmakers began their two-week fall session with a crowded agenda, and the first half of the session did little to ease the load. A few issues -- including gay rights and the death penalty for gang members -- were dropped, but little else was resolved.

In fact, the state's budget problems seem more complicated than ever.

Falling revenues and rising expenses mean the $53 billion budget is out of balance by about $500 million. Officials must find a way to cut that much.

'I simply choose not to'

But Madigan, D-Chicago, is refusing to talk with Ryan about how to trim the budget. Madigan argues that the Republican governor initially said he could make all necessary cuts without legislative help so he should go ahead and do so.

"I'm not making any suggestions. I simply choose not to," Madigan said.

Ryan has yet to spell out where he wants to make cuts and which ones would need legislative approval.

"The cuts that we need to make, I think I can do -- and will," Ryan said last week. "We may get down to where we don't quite reach the number we need, and we'll cross that bridge when we get to it."

The governor warns that if he must cut all $500 million from the parts of the budget under his direct control it will be much more painful than if lawmakers help him spread the cuts across the entire budget.

Madigan's refusal is unreasonable, according to Sen. Steve Rauschenberger, top budget negotiator for Senate Republicans. Lawmakers should work with Ryan to solve the budget problem, he said, but there is so little time left in the fall session that a special session almost inevitably will have to be called.

Ryan and Madigan dismiss that idea.

Spokesman Dennis Culloton said Ryan would not call a special session unless he felt Madigan would be willing to act. But Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said there would be no need for a special session if Ryan would make the cuts himself.

Terrorism package

Meanwhile, other issues are making their way through the Legislature. The biggest is probably Attorney General Jim Ryan's proposal to give law enforcement agencies new powers to combat terrorism. They would get broader authority to use wiretaps when investigating possible terrorists, the power to obtain search warrants more quickly and the ability to freeze suspected terrorists' assets.

Responding to critics who fear giving police too much power, Ryan -- a Republican candidate for governor -- has agreed to tighten the definition of terrorism and let parts of the law expire after three years.

The fall legislative session is technically a "veto" session, when lawmakers accept or overturn the governor's vetoes of bills. There were few major vetoes this year.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: