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Blagojevich wants to cut budget, expand health care

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The battle over the budget appears to be over in Springfield. Governor Rod Blagojevich says it is a done deal -- as he uses his veto powers to rearrange the budget passed by the Illinois House last week.

So, state workers will get paid, and there will be money for healthcare and education. But there will be no bailout for the CTA, and the state's roads and bridges will have to wait.

All of the governor's ambitious health care plans were roundly rejected by Illinois lawmakers this year. But Rod Blagojevich either has some real smart lawyers or he is pulling a fast one, because with one stroke of his veto pen, and the issuance of a controversial executive order, he is getting health care, lawmakers are losing pet projects, and the budget battle does indeed to be over unless Blagojevich is challenged in court.

Governor Blagojevich, to the dismay of the media crowd in Springfield Tuesday, refused to answer a single question after teaming up with his closest political ally, Senate President Emil Jones, to finish off the main chapter of this long and acrimonious budget battle with a single stroke of the pen.

"There are still too many wrong priorities to sign the budget as is. So I'm going to use my veto power to change it," said Governor Blagojevich.

Blagojevich is vetoing $500 million in pet projects and what he calls unnecessary spending that lawmakers added to the budget before passing it last week. And he is issuing an executive order that redirects the money into health care programs for 700,000 low and moderate income Illinois residents.

"In short, I'm cutting pork and special interest spending, and in its place, I'm using the legal authority that I have to expand health care," the governor said.

"We do not plan to move to override because -- on spending that will put the governor in position where he cannot do anything for health care. That's our position. That's what we're going to do. Case closed," said Sen. Emil Jones , (D) senate president.

That promise by Senator Jones not to override the veto apparently means the budget takes effect under the governor's terms in a few days to the disbelief of many lawmakers.

"Irresponsible is putting it kindly. Again, it's a gross disregard for the rule of the General Assembly and the people that we represent," said Sen. Christine Radogno, (R) LaGrange.

"The governor can't go out and arbitrarily make changes in the whole budget without legislative approval," said Sen. Frank Watson, (R) minority leader.

And that's why there's talk around Springfield of a possible legal challenge on constitutional grounds. We're waiting for the powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan, who has been battling the governor all session, to weigh in on this. But nothing so far.

But if the budget stays as is, it means that Chicago schools will be getting a few dollars more than they were expecting. That's good news up in Chicago.

As for the CTA, there is no bailout in this budget plan, but Speaker Madigan is pledging to work with the governor and lawmakers on the CTA bailout over the next month so those draconian cuts and fare increases don't have to take effect in mid-September.

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