While I still think things will eventually calm down and Gov. Rod Blagojevich's insistence that senior citizens be given free rides on all mass transit systems will one day be viewed as a welcomed entitlement, it's obvious that lots and lots of Illinoisans don't feel that way right now.
Blagojevich stunned the state this month when he announced that he'd flip-flop on his election pledge and finally agree to a regional sales tax hike to bail out Chicagoland's mass transit systems as long as seniors rode free. The response, almost uniformly, was anger at the governor's latest political stunt. This ploy may have been the last straw in an ongoing public disillusionment with the same man Illinois reelected barely more than a year ago.
For almost a year, the entire state has been treated to an in-depth and disheartening lesson in legislative and gubernatorial politics.
Starting with the uproar over skyrocketing electric rates and the foot-dragging by Senate President Emil Jones and Gov. Blagojevich in finding a solution, to the governor's disastrous proposal for a Gross Receipts Tax in the Spring and his failure to pass a health insurance bill, through the long, hot, frustrating summer of budget negotiations and the governor's resulting veto of much-needed local projects, to the fight over Cook County property tax "relief" last Autumn, the school funding brawls and stalls in early winter, the seemingly complete acceptance of (and the governor's flip-flop on) a Chicago-owned casino and the never-ending battle over transit funding, the public has had a bellyful of information - all of it bad.
Through it all, the governor's polling has dropped lower than his law school grade point average. The latest statewide poll, taken by Fako & Associates earlier this month, had Blagojevich's favorable rating at an absolutely miserable 20 percent. More than 63 percent of registered voters had a negative view of the governor.
And those numbers likely dropped again when Blagojevich made what would normally be a politically beneficial move by grafting a proposal onto the mass transit bailout bill to give senior citizens free rides.
Blagojevich's amendatory veto of the transit bill to insert the senior freebie resonated loudly throughout every region of the state. Legislators reported receiving dozens, even hundreds, of calls and e-mails from furious constituents urging that the freebie be rejected. Even many senior citizens were angry. It was if the entire state had morphed into the Illinois House, which always has a negative reaction to anything the governor does and draws together as one whenever Blagojevich makes one of his goofy plays.
The fall from grace isn't over yet. Blagojevich, Jones and the House and Senate Republicans risk irking voters again with their push to expand gaming in Illinois and Chicago in order to pay for a capital construction plan.
The public is not happy with this expansion plan. According to that Fako & Associates poll, just 38 percent say they back a plan for a Chicago-owned casino along with two more boats, slots at tracks and expansion at current riverboats, while 57 percent oppose the idea. The poll of 801 registered voters was taken January 3-6 and has a margin of error of +/- 3.46 percent.
Moreover, the public is incredibly cynical about how the cash will be spent and how the new casinos will be operated. For instance, 60 percent of registered voters agreed with the statement: "Politicians in Springfield and Chicago canŐt be trusted to keep their promise to actually use profits from casinos for mass transit and infrastructure projects," while 67 percent agreed with this: "Politicians in Springfield and Chicago cannot be trusted to expand gambling in Illinois and would be influenced and corrupted by stakeholders in the new casinos."
67 percent said they thought organized crime and gambling addiction would increase with expanded gaming, 72 percent said Chicago can't be trusted to run a casino without scandals and corruption and 71 percent acknowledged that casino revenues aren't a stable funding source.
The numbers likely show one reason why House Speaker Michael Madigan has dragged his feet on gaming expansion during the run-up to the February 5th primary. This is not a popular idea. And it's just one more public opinion bomb waiting to go off in the governor's face.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.