There are several important things to keep in mind when discussing the governor's proposed budget cuts. The governor threatened to slash $1.5 billion out of the state budget unless the House comes back to Springfield and passes some revenue generating bills and the capital construction budget, all of which were approved by the Senate in May and blocked by House Speaker Michael Madigan.
We don't really know what the governor is actually planning to do. Last week was just a media event. The idea was to instill fear and loathing among the press and the various constituencies which would be impacted by his threatened cuts. But there were no real details, just a broad brush.
Why would I ever doubt Blagojevich's intentions? Well, the governor threatened deep cuts during the spring session to balance the supposedly out of whack budget and never followed through. Remember those draconian cuts to 4-H and other agricultural programs he threatened in April? The governor eventually released the money. There is no doubt that a budget hole exists and that cuts are inevitable. Let's be very clear: There will be pain. We just don't yet know what the governor will do when the budget bills are finally on his desk and he holds that reduction and line item veto pen in his hand.
The Senate Democrats insist that the governor vastly inflated the size of Fiscal Year 2008's deficit. So while everyone has focused on the governor's claim of a $2 billion deficit for Fiscal Year 2009, which begins July 1st, that figure could be inflated as well.
Quite a few of the governor's announced cuts are not really "cuts," but reductions in proposed increases. Many of the "cuts" may look horrible on paper, but these are just expansions that won't happen.
Education spending will actually increase by about $400 million in Fiscal Year 2009. The governor had little choice but to leave that increase intact because of threats of a revolt by the Senate Democrats, his only remaining allies. If he loses them, he loses the war with Madigan. But giving education a relatively generous increase while threatening to cut back on some key social programs will likely create controversy before too long.
Quite a few of the cuts seemed designed specifically to generate media attention and threaten hardship. The entire $28 million state subsidy to Amtrak would apparently be eliminated, for instance, potentially killing off three of the five trains that run daily from Chicago to St. Louis. Two of the three trains between Chicago and Carbondale would also have to be eliminated.
The governor's obvious intent was to shift the blame for these and other impending cuts to House Speaker Michael Madigan, which Madigan doesn't appear too concerned about. It's unlikely they'll be coming back to Springfield to take any action, Madigan's lieutenants told the media.
The House Republicans claimed they'd be willing to work out a deal, but offered no solutions of their own. Their members oppose the two revenue generating bills passed by the Senate Democrats and demanded by the governor (a huge pension obligation bond and some special fund sweeps), and now that May is over and legislative solutions require a three-fifths vote. the ball will likely be in their court to come up with an alternative if Madigan refuses to propose any of his own.
The Chicago Tribune demanded in an editorial last week that the governor veto the entire budget and bring back the General Assembly for a special session. That won't happen because the all-important Senate Democrats oppose it. A Chicago Sun-Times editorial suggested a deal could be cut on the special funds sweeps, but there aren't nearly enough House votes to pass it. You'll undoubtedly hear more "simple solutions" in the coming days, but the harsh political realities of Springfield make even the easiest solution close to impossible.
If the governor goes through with these draconian cuts he can certainly make the case that Madigan is to blame. But, in the end, the governor - any governor - always wears the jacket. It will be his veto pen doing the slashing. It is his administration.
Still, there's no doubt that the Speaker has hurt the Madigan "name brand" of late with this horrific war. That could make any gubernatorial bid by his daughter, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, all the more difficult. Speaker Madigan doesn't really care about what Blagojevich and the media does to him, but this mud will splash on his daughter.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.