Being on budget sideline irks Illinois lawmakers

Tuesday, May 21, 2002

SPRINGFIELD -- Rep. Bill Black stood at his post on the House floor, red-faced and visibly frustrated.

His voice cracking as he shouted. Black protested the decision to send most lawmakers home while key officials studied the budget.

"I'm willing to stay here Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, so I can be a part of the process. I get tired of you sending us home and then bringing us back and feeding us like a bunch of mushrooms!" Black said. "I'm tired of it. That's not the way the public's business should be conducted."

Despite last week's outburst by Black, a Republican from Danville, he and other rank-and-file lawmakers will return to the Capitol this week to finish minor legislative business while waiting for top legislative leaders and the governor to make the big decisions on spending the state's approximately $52 billion budget.

If all goes as usual, the so-called "Four Tops" -- House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago; Senate President James 'Pate' Philip, R-Wood Dale; House Republican Leader Lee Daniels, R-Elmhurst; and Senate Democratic Leader Emil Jones Jr., D-Chicago -- will huddle behind closed doors with Gov. George Ryan to hash out a final plan.

They may not finish this week.

But when the leaders have reached agreement, they'll start the roughly 72-hour task of printing copies of the budget proposal.

Lawmakers will be given the highlights of the final deal in meetings with their leaders. But they may have only a matter of hours to look at the actual printed budget, which is several inches think, before voting.

"It makes it really very difficult to make an informed, intelligent vote," said Sen. Denny Jacobs, D-East Moline. "It's a hell of a way to run a business."

Power shift

It didn't always work that way.

Before the 1990s, appropriations committees voted on separate state agency budgets -- a plan that afforded individual lawmakers more influence, said Kent Redfield, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Springfield.

But rule changes shifted more power to legislative leaders, who at the same time were amassing huge campaign funds to help secure coveted legislative seats.

Lawmakers who hope to benefit from those funds tend to vote in line with their leaders.

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