Last month Gov. Rod Blagojevich proclaimed that the Illinois House absolutely, positively, without a doubt had to pass the Senate-approved pension obligation bond deal, a special funds sweep and the entire capital construction package or he'd have to slash the state budget right down to the bone. Much suffering would result, the governor warned, unless the House complied with every one of his directives.
Last week, while announcing yet another summertime special legislative session, Blagojevich quietly deleted the formerly all-important pension bond plan from his list of demands. The bond scheme would close a $400 million hole in what is supposed to be a horribly unbalanced budget. The governor also took several items off the budget-slashing table, including rape crisis centers and Amtrak.
In other words, Blagojevich simply reinforced the widespread Statehouse notion that he's been bluffing all along about the budget's dire straits.
For weeks now, journalists have reported with a straight face the governor's claim that the state is facing an unmanageable $2 billion deficit. Editorial writers have expressed outraged at how the General Assembly apparently violated the state's Constitution by sending the governor an egregiously out of whack spending plan.
But last week, reporters only barely mentioned that the governor dumped a $400 million revenue stream from his list of demands. Apparently, that $2 billion hole isn't all that big, or all that unamanageable. Why else would the governor abandon it so quickly?
The governor's people say that after staff talked to a couple of dozen House members they discovered there weren't enough votes to pass the pension bond proposal during this week's special session. But that still doesn't explain the governor's flip-flop. Why not propose another revenue source?
In reality, there aren't enough votes to pass anything. After May 31st, it takes a three-fifths majority to pass any legislation that has an immediate effective date. All those bills the governor wants approved have immediate effective dates. A new revenue source would also likely require an immediate effective date. Therefore, very little, if anything, can pass.
So why even bother calling legislators to Springfield for another special session if nothing can pass?
The idea is to bring everybody back to town so the governor can once again pin the blame on his old enemy, House Speaker Michael Madigan, for all the trouble in the world.
He's been laying it on thick, lately, too. For instance, the governor is now claiming that Madigan has a "secret plan" to increase taxes after the election. Madigan, the governor says, deliberately passed an unbalanced budget to increase the pressure for a post-election tax hike.
The governor's bold accusations miss two points - both of which are often overlooked by most of the media.
1) The House passed three different versions of the state budget. The Senate approved just one of them, the so-called "Christmas Tree" budget that loaded up on all sorts of goodies. The other two House-approved budgets, which are far more balanced, were never called for a vote in the Senate.
2) Senate President Emil Jones, like Madigan, is on record as supporting an income tax increase. A member of Jones' own leadership team, Sen. John Cullerton, has said that he plans to call an income tax increase bill for a vote after the November election.
Jones is Blagojevich's last powerful ally, so you won't hear the governor say an unkind word about the Senate President. If he loses Jones' support, he loses his war with Madigan, and the war with Madigan is more important to the governor than anything else.
What the geniuses responsible for the governor's miserable approval rating may not have reckoned, however, is that the special session could also highlight Blagojevich's political impotence.
This is the same governor, mind you, who tossed together a half-baked budget proposal at the last minute which was full of ideas that had already failed, then completely disengaged from the entire budget negotiating process until three weeks after the General Assembly adjourned.
And now, because of his lack of interest in governance, the multiple federal investigations, the rising calls for his impeachment, and his lack of truthfulness on the budget deficit, he's in a position of trying to force his will on a bunch of people who don't care what he does.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.