Blago’s gone but Ill. budget problems remain

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — New governor, same old result. Gov. Rod Blagojevich is gone from the Illinois Capitol, taking all his drama and feuds with him, but that hasn’t alleviated lawmakers’ bitter disputes. Although they face the worst budget crisis in

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — New governor, same old results. Gov. Rod Blagojevich is gone from the Illinois Capitol, taking all his drama and feuds with him, but that hasn’t alleviated lawmakers’ bitter disputes. Although they face the worst budget crisis in state history that could threaten state services, they have again failed to pass a state budget. Lawmakers left the Statehouse after their overnight debate Monday failed to resolve Illinois’ state government deficit of at least $11.6 billion. Unwilling to raise taxes or specify spending cuts, they approved a "lights-on" budget that includes only enough money for state agencies to keep the lights on. Gov. Pat Quinn met with top lawmakers Monday afternoon to jumpstart budget negotiations. They emerged pledging cooperation but with lingering signs of continued conflict. House Speaker Michael Madigan shrugged off Republican complaints that Democrats had not included them in budget talks, but Madigan said he didn’t need to meet face to face with House Minority Leader Tom Cross. "I think I know most of Tom’s ideas. I go to his Web site frequently," the Chicago Democrat cracked. Cross, R-Oswego, responded by pointing out that the Democratic majority could afford to be cavalier in May, but new legislative rules took effect in June that will require Republican votes to pass a budget. "They didn’t demonstrate any willingness to listen during session, but they failed miserably so now they’ve got a little different situation," Cross said. Republicans are already trying to score political points off the latest failures of Democrats, who control the House, Senate and governor’s office. They even have an online video that morphs the embattled Blagojevich into Quinn, Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton as the Who’s "Don’t Get Fooled Again" blares in the background. The cooperation that Quinn promised in January, after the much-reviled Blagojevich was bounced out of office following his arrest on federal corruption charges, has vanished. As lieutenant governor, Quinn moved into the state’s top post and was initially praised for reaching out to both parties. But then came his budget proposal and its mix of budget cuts, bookkeeping maneuvers and tax cuts. That drove home the painful choices legislators would have to make. The Statehouse quickly reverted to Democrats vs. Republicans, tax-raisers vs. cost-cutters, political targets vs. re-election shoo-ins. Quinn held frequent breakfast meetings with Democratic leaders but not Republicans. Lawmakers of both parties warned that his budget needed more spending cuts before they would consider a tax increase, but he offered none. No one expected this legislative session to be simple as lawmakers faced the state’s record-breaking budget deficit. Residents hoped for more discussion of where the state stands, where it should go and how to get there. But lawmakers’ debate so far resembles their old routine of stitching together a patchwork budget, declaring victory and rushing home before anyone can examine the plan closely. "Those of us who are concerned about the future of Illinois’ economy had hoped that this General Assembly and this governor would use this opportunity to scale back and restrain the constant growth of government spending that we have seen for so many years, especially these last six years," said Doug Whitley, head of the Illinois State Chamber of Commerce. If the state budget skidded off course both before and after Blagojevich was ousted, some wonder whether he was really the problem. Some lawmakers said yes, though admit he wasn’t the only problem. Blagojevich antagonized legislators, ramped up distrust among party leaders and led Illinois deeper into a budget hole by using financial smoke-and-mirrors to cover up the shortfall. The problems carried over into the current legislative session, said Sen. Terry Link, D-Waukegan. "We just have a huge mess that needs to be resolved," Link said. ______ Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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