Back in 1966, with the Vietnam War escalating by the day, Vermont Senator George Aiken famously said that the United States should just "declare victory and go home."
History may have repeated itself last week when the two men assigned by Gov. Rod Blagojevich to forge a compromise on a multibillion dollar capital construction plan unveiled a $31 billion proposal for roads, bridges, schools and mass transit and then quickly left town. Their war was unwinnable.
Word spread earlier in the month that former US House Speaker Denny Hastert and SIU President Glenn Poshard had finally realized that bringing the legislative leaders and the governor together on a massive capital projects plan would be a lot more difficult that either had expected.
Their moment of clarity reportedly came after a meeting with House Speaker Michael Madigan. The speaker has been dragging his feet on a capital plan for the past year while his aides point to the Republicans as the real problem. The House Democrats say the Republicans are only claiming to support it, but most likely won't vote for the proposed funding mechanisms of expanded gambling and a sale of the state Lottery.
On the other hand, many Republicans, and a whole lot of others, believe Madigan doesn't want to give his mortal enemy the governor any big victories, perhaps in order to help his daughter Lisa's eventual gubernatorial campaign.
Whatever the case, it's no secret that the Statehouse is a complete mess. The endless bickering shows little sign of ever receding. Apparently, Hastert and Poshard finally realized how poisoned the atmosphere truly was, decided to hang up a "Mission Accomplished" banner behind them and then beat a hasty retreat.
The plan they unveiled would put some restrictions on how the capital money is spent by the Blagojevich administration. Both Poshard and Hastert acknowledged the reality that the governor has a serious "trust" problem with the General Assembly. His word is simply not believed.
The revenues raised from selling the Lottery, building a new Chicago casino and from other sources would be placed in a "lock box" which couldn't be easily raided by the governor for unrelated purposes. As you may already know, the governor has made a habit of raiding special state funds to keep his budget balanced.
The governor would also have to agree to sign "Memoranda of Understanding" pledging to distribute the cash on an equitable basis. Blagojevich has been forced to do this on several previous budgets. But MoU's are just pieces of paper, and quite a few legislators believe those MoU's wouldn't be worth the paper they'd be written on.
Quite a few legislators have had experiences with this governor putting pressure on them to vote a certain way. Relatives have been fired or demoted, projects have been canceled, budget items have not been funded. They understandably don't want to constantly put themselves in a position of political weakness in order to get much-needed projects approved for their districts.
The House Democrats weren't the only legislators who were not completely impressed with the Hastert/Poshard plan.
Last Tuesday, a group of House Republicans held a Statehouse news conference to insist that Illinois motorists receive a summertime reprieve from the state's gasoline sales tax. The Republican press conference was followed by a long "debate" on the House floor as Republicans sought to pressure the Democrats to allow their bill out of committee to suspend part of the tax through the summer driving season.
Trouble is, the Hastert-Poshard compromise, unveiled later that very day, would use some of those very same "excess" gasoline sales tax revenues to fund the construction program. Oops.
Just about everybody who drives, has a kid in school or takes mass transit understands our state's dire need for infrastructure repair. We're supposed to be a top-tiered state, yet we've allowed everything to fall apart. It's truly disgraceful. And then there's the deteriorating economy. The Hastert/Poshard capital plan would supposedly create about a half million desperately needed jobs and sustain close to 200,000 current jobs.
I wish I could tell you that the governor will somehow magically change his ways. Barring that, I wish I could tell you that the members will decide that even if they don't trust the governor to equitably distribute the projects they'll vote for a new capital plan anyway.
But I'd be lying if I did that.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.