Blagojevich scales back construction plan

Gov. Rod Blagojevich tried to revive his proposed statewide construction program on Thursday by ratcheting down the price tag and abandoning gambling expansion to pay for it. But the concessions may not be enough to resuscitate the plan stalled by his feu

Gov. Rod Blagojevich tried to revive his proposed statewide construction program on Thursday by ratcheting down the price tag and abandoning gambling expansion to pay for it. But the concessions may not be enough to resuscitate the plan stalled by his feuding with lawmakers and legislative infighting. Top lawmakers met with Blagojevich for nearly two hours about the overhaul that shrinks the program to fix Illinois’ infrastructure and more to $25 billion from $34 billion. But a surrogate who attended the meeting in place of House Speaker Michael Madigan said the plan still has problems. The proposal relies in part on a partial lease of the state lottery, an idea that Democratic House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie called "a hard sell." Blagojevich’s proposed overhaul of the capital plan is a testament to just how much relations have devolved in Springfield where both chambers and the governor’s office are controlled by Democrats. Republican former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert and former Democratic congressman Glenn Poshard, now Southern Illinois University’s president, worked for nearly five months to try to put together a deal. Blagojevich didn’t miss a chance to blast Madigan—again—for skipping a meeting with him—again—and the other three top lawmakers about the stalled capital plan. "He sends minions who admittedly say they have no authority to negotiate or make any decisions," Blagojevich said. The governor said he would try to pass a law requiring Madigan to come to meetings if he could. Madigan and Blagojevich have a running feud and the state House’s top Democrat has refused meetings with the governor, calling them unproductive. Other leaders were quick to pile on Madigan after their meeting with Blagojevich. "All they do in the House is just sit and criticize. So let the bridges fall, let our roads crumble, you know, let our schools go without the capital needs that they deserve, and all they do is complain," Democratic Senate President Emil Jones said. It’s "a travesty" the Democrats can’t agree on how to do a capital bill or how to pay for it, said Senate Republican Leader Frank Watson. "The inability of these people to agree on anything is just incredible, it’s criminal, it’s outrageous. We can’t stand for this," said Watson of Greenville. Currie contends many fellow House Democrats don’t trust Blagojevich to fulfill project commitments in a capital plan no matter its size. Some fear there aren’t enough safeguards to keep Blagojevich from diverting money to his pet projects and punishing lawmakers who crossed him. "Unfortunately there’s not a lot of trust in the governor among members of our caucus," Currie said, pledging to bring Blagojevich’s latest proposal back to House Democrats. Lawmakers also had complained about fatal flaws in a gambling expansion measure that would have helped fund the larger capital plan. It would have authorized three new casinos, including one in downtown Chicago but under terms Mayor Richard Daley didn’t like. Instead of leasing the lottery, there could be support for a modest state income tax increase or for a graduated income tax system that puts the biggest burden on the wealthiest Illinoians, Currie said. Blagojevich has repeatedly rejected the suggestion of raising the state income tax. His scaled down proposal relies on $100 million in excess state sales taxes on motor fuels and $150 million in excess motor fuel taxes, according to the governor’s office. On Thursday, Blagojevich tried to sweeten the pot more by suggesting he would consider linking campaign finance reform to the capital plan if that would help get it passed. Lawmakers have voted to impose the state’s first major restriction on money politicians can accept, but Blagojevich has yet to sign it. Watson said he told Blagojevich the two have to be linked. Lawmakers approved restrictions that include barring anyone with a state contract worth $50,000 or more from contributing to the officeholder who awarded the contract. Later Thursday, the governor’s office released a letter purported to be from Madigan to a union president. The short July 10 letter to Teamsters Joint Council 25 President John Coli starts out by saying, "I regret that you bought into the bull—- of the Blagojevich people." Blagojevich spokesman Lucio Guerrero said the letter shows what the administration is up against in trying to work with Madigan. "He’s just angry and doesn’t work with anybody," Guerrero said. Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said he had no knowledge of the letter and would not bother the speaker with questions about it Thursday night. He cautioned to be suspicious of the letter because it came through the governor’s office. "You’re dealing with very confused people" who are under great pressure, Brown said. Coli did not immediately return calls for comment. (AP) ______ Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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