Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes said last week that Governor Rod Blagojevich's hypocrisy "knows no bounds."
Man, was he ever telling the truth.
The other day, Gov. Blagojevich was complaining about "pork barrel" projects that legislators inserted into the state budget they passed.
"ItÕs got so much pork in it that if you were to hold the budget document itself, youÕd probably be unable to hold it because itÕs so greasy," Blagojevich said.
Each House member is slated to receive $650,000 in the budget for projects in their districts, and each Senator will get $1.3 million.
That's not a whole lot of money in the grand scheme of a $50-plus billion budget, but "pork" is one of those hot-button words and is something the public loves to hate, even if they only have a general idea that political pork is somehow a bad thing.
While some of the projects included in the budget that passed last week might be questionable, most of them are pretty straightforward.
The small, downstate communities of Olney, Breese and Salem will receive "$200,000 each to replace water mains, meters, lines and fire hydrants," according to local news reports. Rock Island County would get $50,000 to help build a nursing home. Suburban Evergreen Park's police department will receive $50,000 for equipment purchases. Homer Glen would get $50,000 for flood control.
Ask anyone in those towns whether they need those projects, and you'll probably hear a resounding "Yes." Those items aren't "pork" to them. They are real needs.
But the governor has been doing everything he can to prevent the General Assembly from passing a budget in order to create a crisis situation that helps him achieve his grand dream of providing insurance to some of the uninsured. So, he used the relatively small projects to attempt to demonize the budget in the public's mind. While briefly visiting the Illinois State Fair on Friday, Blagojevich called the budget, "pork, politics and false promises."
Governor Blagojevich is the same man, mind you, who tried to "encourage" one legislator, state Sen. Mike Jacobs (D-East Moline), to vote for his health insurance bill by offering him a $75 million project in his district. Jacobs turned him down, but Blagojevich's offer was just a few bucks shy of the total amount received by all Senate districts in all of Illinois in the budget the Senate passed last week.
"Hypocrisy" doesn't even begin to describe Blagojevich's behavior.
But wait, there's more.
Blagojevich also tried without success last week to pass what is known in Statehouse parlance as a "capital bill," which is basically legislation that pays for construction projects for roads, bridges, mass transit, schools, universities, etc.
The same governor who so thoroughly denounced $650,000 for each House district reportedly signed off on at least $400 million in "pork" projects for legislative districts in his capital bill.
Blagojevich was cynically using this much-needed construction plan to help pass his health insurance bill. He spent the week dangling juicy projects in front of legislators as an enticement to get on board. He also used the projects to convince members to vote against the state budget that both chambers passed last week.
Neither gambit worked. The budget passed and his health insurance bill remains a disastrous failure. I'm not sure if that says more about the honesty and integrity of state legislators or the ineptness of the governor.
The public is conditioned to automatically reject the idea of "pork projects," because the media, a few politicians and most "good government" groups frequently rail against a small handful of those projects that are clearly unneeded. But, overall, I really donÕt see a huge problem with state legislators deciding to allocate money to their own districts. They ought to know better than most where the needs are.
The biggest problem I have with pork is when legislators hide their projects in the budget by not listing each one line by line. Blagojevich, himself, railed against that practice during his first campaign for governor.
And guess who is the only legislative leader to hide his members' pork projects in the budget? That would be Senate President Emil Jones, BlagojevichÕs close political ally. But we never heard a peep from the guv about that.
When it comes to pork, the governor has absolutely zero credibility.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.